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Date: Monday, 8 December 2003
Place: Option consommateurs – 2120, rue Sherbrooke Est, bureau 604,
Time: 10:30 a.m.
Subject: Airline Advertising – Don't Believe Everything You Read
Every day, in newspapers across the country, airlines advertise flights at attractive and competitive prices. And every day, when consumers actually buy these tickets, they are surprised to discover the hidden fees that raise the price up to 79%!
During this press conference, Option consommateurs, in conjunction with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, will explain why this state of affairs is illegal, make recommendations to airlines and the government and invite ordinary consumers to complain. The Air Travel Complaints Commissioner, Ms. Liette Lacroix Kenniff, will also be present.
For more information: Option consommateurs: Louise Rozon, Stéphanie Poulin and Marie-Hélène Beaulieu, (514) 598-7288
TEXT OF PRESS CONFERENCE
Monday 8 December 2003 at 10:30 a.m.
Airline Advertising – Don't Believe Everything You Read
When you see a service advertised at a given price, you expect to pay that price. But not for flights. Surprised?
Every day, in newspapers across the country, airlines advertise flights at highly competitive prices. In the past several weeks, we have seen ads announcing, for example, flights from Montréal to Vancouver for $174 (Westjet), to Toronto for $89 (Jetsgo), and to Halifax for $64 (Canjet).
These rates are attractive – but far from the truth.
In the first place, the advertised price is for a one-way ticket – which you rarely need, especially for longer trips.
Secondly, the advertised price is for the ticket only. You'll have to add the fees – that airlines in their ads call “surcharges”. These include Nav Canada fees, airport improvement charges, fuel fees, insurance and air security charges.
Finally, you also have to add taxes (G.S.T. or H.S.T. and possibly sales tax depending on the province).
The ads say “taxes and surcharges extra”. But this is in the (very) fine print tucked away at the bottom of the ad. And the total of these fees and taxes is never stated. Often, however, their cost is very high indeed.
For example, on a Montreal to Vancouver ticket advertised by Westjet at $174, you must add $61.54 in extra charges, which equals 35.5% of the ticket price; on a Jetsgo Montreal-Toronto flight advertised at $89, add $48.55 of charges, which is 54% of the ticket price, and on the Montreal-Halifax ticket advertised by Canjet, add $50.54, which is 79% of the ticket price. Quebec sales tax extra.
When you buy a ticket to a U.S. destination, things are even worse. You must add fees demanded by the Americans. While researching this issue, we found an ad announcing tickets at $99 for West Palm Beach (from Montreal). Once the extra charges were added, the West Palm Beach ticket didn't cost $99, but instead $196.64 (G.S.T. extra), an increase of 98.5%. Another ad offered tickets for Orlando at $99. Since the extra charges were $103.10, the final cost of the ticket was $202.10 (G.S.T. extra), in other words an increase of 104%.
Stéphanie Poulin, a lawyer with Option consommateurs, will now show you several examples of the ads and explain the added charges.
[Examples to be shown at press conference.]
Faced with such an intolerable situation, many consumers have been complaining. Ms. Liette Lacroix Kenniff, Air Travel Complaints Commissioner, will now explain her role, and talk about the complaints she has received, and the recommendations she has made.
There is no specific law governing airline travel advertising. However, the federal Competition Act applies to all advertising. In Option consommateurs and PIAC's opinion, under s. 74.01 of the Competition Act, the ads we have reproduced are misleading advertising. Simply put, the advertised price does not reflect what the consumer pays. The added charges are indeed mentioned, but only in miniscule print, and the total of the fees is never revealed. Very often, in fact, this “fine print” at the bottom of the ads is virtually illegible – you only have to take a glance at any of the ads in papers at the newsstand to be convinced.
Option consommateurs and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre demand that airlines' advertising clearly indicate the entire price the consumer must pay, including all fees and charges. Taxes may be stated as payable in addition to this total if it is clear to consumers which taxes are applicable and the tax rate.
Option consommateurs and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre recommend that the Minister of Transport place strict controls on airline advertising and ensure that these rules are enforced.
Option consommateurs and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre invite consumers who feel they have been misled by these ads to complain to the airline that sold them the tickets, to the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner, as well as to the Competition Bureau.
To assist consumers in filing a complaint, Option consommateurs and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre have provided form letters on their respective websites at www.option-consommateurs.org and www.piac.ca. Option consommateurs and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre will ensure they are delivered to the appropriate parties.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) is a non-profit corporation that provides legal services and research to vulnerable consumers and the organizations that represent them. PIAC's main areas of advocacy are in the areas of telecommunications, broadcasting, financial services, energy, e-commerce and privacy.
Transport 2000© Canada is a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is research, public education and consumer advocacy. It promotes environmentally-sound transportation solutions and gets actively involved in a wide range of issues such as: public transportation, safety, accessibility, energy efficiency, protection of the environment, intermodal cooperation and government regulation.