Airlines retain €28m in taxes and charges on unfilled flight seats

 

THE NATIONAL Consumer Agency (NCA) is seeking to clip the wings of Irish airlines who pocket taxes and airport charges paid by passengers who do not travel on flights they have booked.

About €28 million a year in these taxes and charges is retained by the airlines in Ireland.

The agency says it believes this practice to be “unfair” and is considering seeking a “determination” from the High Court.

At present, Ryanair, Aer Lingus, Aer Arann and other carriers apply administration fees for the refund of Government taxes and airport charges.

While many airlines – particularly Ryanair – long ago stopped offering fare refunds to passengers who cancel or are “no-shows” at the airport, travellers are entitled to refunds on their charges and taxes.

These amounts are only paid by airlines to the relevant authorities when a passenger in fact takes a flight.

If the passenger doesn’t fly, they are entitled to a refund.

An agency spokesman said it had been “engaged” with Irish airlines for some time on this matter.

The consumer watchdog added: “The National Consumer Agency is of the opinion that the current arrangements engaged in by some airlines, relating to the non-refundability of certain taxes, fees and charges when a consumer cancels a flight, are unfair.

“The agency’s view is that the airlines must take the legitimate interests of consumers into consideration when deciding on refundability policies.

“The NCA is currently examining its options, including that of seeking a determination from the High Court as to whether such conditions are deemed to be unfair.”

Ryanair declined to comment on the matter. The airline charges an administration fee of €20 for refunds and only pays out Government taxes.

It does not offer refunds on airport charges, even though this money is not paid over to airport managers such as the Dublin Airport Authority.

Aer Lingus charges a fee of €20 for each one-way segment of no- shows or cancellations, but it refunds all taxes and charges.

Aer Lingus said this was to defray the cost of processing a claim.

“This is an industry-wide practice and Aer Lingus’s refund administration fee compares favourably to other airlines,” it added.

Aer Arann charges €30 for each person on each segment. A spokesman said this was under review “to see how it might be changed or reduced”.

A spokesman for CityJet, a Dublin-based unit of Air France, said it “waives” these fees and offers full refunds to passengers.

In September, Air Tax Back Ltd was formed in Dublin to administer claims with airlines for consumers in Ireland and abroad.

It is currently handling 50 claims regarding Ryanair and Aer Lingus, according to co-founder Brian Whelan.

“We’re tapping into a deep vein of anger from the travelling public,” Mr Whelan said.

“It’s not just that people now value those few euro more than they did; passengers are just sick of being treated like idiots by the airlines.”