EU clamps down on 'misleading' air fares

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Airlines would be banned from advertising fares without hidden extras such as taxes, fuel surcharges and booking fees under plans announced by the European Commission today.

The move follows complaints from passengers who found the price of flights increased significantly from the advertised one - just as they are about to pay online.

Officials said yesterday national flag carriers as well as low-cost airlines mislead the public. The new rules to clamp down on the malpractice need approval by EU governments and MEPs but could be in place by the autumn of next year.

The plans would also streamline aviation regulations and prevent operators varying their prices for purchasers who live in different EU countries.

The European transport commissioner, Jacques Barrot, will argue that advertised air fares should include the cost of taxes and airport charges, as well as fuel surcharges and general supplements for wheelchairs and baggage. Booking fees and charges levied for making payments by credit cards should also be included.

An internal document says: "Too often passengers are confused by apparently attractive fares which then turn out to be much higher at the moment of payment." The Commission also says: "These practices are not specific to certain types of airlines: some low-cost airlines publish incomplete fares while others publish all-inclusive fares; some network carriers publish incomplete fares while others publish all-inclusive fares."

The rules would also make it easier to lease aircraft in other EU states but harder to do so from operators outside the bloc.