British consumer watchdog forces airlines to adopt transparent pricing

A dozen European airlines, including easyJet, Ryanair and Lufthansa, have been forced to include debit card charges in headline prices, rather than surprising online customers by slapping an additional surcharge at the last minute.

Britain's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has also got the airlines to be transparent about their credit card charges in the early stage of booking.

''This is a great outcome for the millions of people who buy flights online,'' said Clive Maxwell, head, OFT. ''It is important that the cost presented when they search for a flight is realistic and that they are not surprised by extra charges.''

According to him, it is critical that such charges are transparent and are not sprung on buyers towards the end of the booking process.

Maxwell said the OFT made it clear from the beginning that it would use all of its enforcement powers, including court action, if necessary, to bring about the change. ''But we are pleased to have reached an agreement with the airlines before court proceedings were required.''

The OFT estimates the cost to consumers of card surcharges on air fares is about £300 million a year. Importantly, the government is planning to introduce legislation to ensure that companies and service providers in all sectors adhere to similar rules. The move would cover purchases, including cinema tickets.