It's last call for last-minute flight booking charges in Europe: Websites must show the total price for a flight right from the outset, and not wait till the last screen before booking to display additional charges, the European Union's top court ruled on Thursday.
When people use an online flight booking system the first price shown must also be the final price, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled. This applies not just to the flight that is selected by the customer, but to all flights shown in relation to that flight.
The court ruled in a case between the German Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV) and Air Berlin that started in 2008.
At the end of 2008, an EU regulation on common rules for the operation of air services mandated that airlines show the final price to be paid at all times, including taxes, charges, surcharges and other fees. The rules apply to any form of published pricing, including on the Internet.
However, many airlines have been ignoring or trying to circumvent these rules since then, according to the VZBV, which said that was the reason for suing the airline. It demanded that Air Berlin started showing airport fees, taxes and surcharges as well as the "service fee" for payments. It welcomed the CJEU's verdict, calling it a good decision for consumers.
VZBV wanted Air Berlin to comply with the EU regulation and won in the court of first instance and on appeal. Air Berlin though turned to the German Federal Court of Justice, which in turn asked the CJEU to interpret the regulation.
EU's top court decided that the regulation is quite clear, pointing out that it was designed in particular to ensure that customers are able to effectively compare the prices for air services of different air carriers.
The case will now go back to Germany's Federal Court. As the CJEU does not decide the dispute itself, it is for the national court or tribunal to dispose of the case in accordance with the Court's decision, which is similarly binding on other national courts or tribunals before which a similar issue is raised.
That won't matter for Air Berlin though, which has changed its ways since the 2008 complaint was filed, and now believes it already complies with the CJEU's ruling.
Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to [email protected]