Ryanair sued by package holiday service over accusations of exploiting dominance

On the Beach accused airline of monopolising the market for booking services

Ryanair has not yet filed a defence to the claim. Photograph: iStock

Ryanair has not yet filed a defence to the claim. Photograph: iStock

 

Online travel agent On the Beach is suing Ryanair for blocking it from booking flights with the airline, in an escalation of a long-running dispute between the travel groups.

According to legal documents filed with the UK high court, On the Beach claims Ryanair breached competition rules by blocking the company’s credit cards and preventing its customers from managing bookings online.

On the Beach claims Ryanair abused its “dominant” position in the market and caused it loss by unlawful means. The travel agent claims Ryanair stops it from creating a “my Ryanair account” required to make a booking and has made false and disparaging claims about the company.

Ryanair has long tussled with online travel agents, which prevent the airline dealing directly with customers. Chief executive Michael O’Leary has characterised online agents as “overcharging scam artists” for adding their own fees to the airline’s prices, and Ryanair has previously complained that travel agents have provided incorrect passenger information to the airline.

Airlines prefer to deal with customers directly, particularly as it allows them to sell extra products ranging from seat selection to car rentals and hotel bookings. These so-called ancillaries are crucial to Ryanair’s low-cost business model, and the airline pioneered using them in Europe to keep headline fares low.

On the Beach is seeking damages from the airline and claims Ryanair sought to “degrade the experience for On the Beach customers by making it less convenient and/or more expensive for ... customers to use Ryanair than for direct customers”.

Refunds spat

Ryanair, which is yet to file a defence to the allegations, declined to comment.

On the Beach claims that since December last year, Ryanair has refused to allow its customers to manage their bookings or check in online, requiring them to do it in person. In some cases customers were allegedly charged an extra €55 for doing so.

The case follows an ongoing spat over refunds for cancelled flights during the pandemic. Last year Ryanair accused several online booking companies of failing to pass refunds on to customers after flights were cancelled during the first wave of travel restrictions last spring.

In turn, On the Beach claims in its legal filing that package travel rules forced it to refund customers for cancelled flights that Ryanair did not pay back. The company claims it was forced to pay refunds worth £48.7 million.

Ryanair introduced an online “customer verification” form on Ryanair.com for customers to apply directly for flight refunds.

The airline brought a case against On the Beach in 2010 arguing it had copied content from Ryanair’s website, breaching its terms of use. However, the claim has not progressed past a legal ruling on whether the case should be heard in the Republic of Ireland or the UK. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021