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Guardian: Ryanair claims win in website ads case

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Old March 3rd, 2005, 10:40 AM
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Default Guardian: Ryanair claims win in website ads case

Ryanair claims win in website ads case

Paul Owen
Thursday March 3, 2005
The Guardian

Ryanair won a "victory for small print" yesterday in a test case for
internet advertising when a court decided that it was legal to advertise
flight costs without taxes as long as that was made clear.

But the budget airline was fined 24,000 after the jurors at Chelmsford
crown court concluded that a page of its website, which did not immediately
explain that tax would be added, breached consumer protection legislation.

Ryanair had been prosecuted by Essex county council's trading standards
department. The council's lawyers argued that the legal position in relation
to internet advertisements should be "the price you see is the price you
pay", as it is for newspaper, billboard and television adverts.

Ryanair was accused of breaking the Consumer Protection Act by advertising a
flight as "London-Stansted - Pisa 4.99 one way, excluding tax", because the
offer did not immediately and clearly spell out the full cost, which would
have been 11.87 when 1.88 for insurance and 5 for UK air duty was added.

But the jury disagreed. They found the Dublin-based company guilty regarding
six other website adverts which did not feature the words "excluding tax".

Judge Charles Gratwicke fined the firm 4,000 for each charge. But he did
not order Ryanair to pay any costs, so the 32,000 cost of bringing the
prosecution will have to be met by the council.

Ryanair denied the offences. It said its policy was to always add the phrase
"excluding tax". The words had been missed off the six flight advertisements
in error, it claimed.

Mike Hill, head of Essex county council's trading standards department, said
the council would lobby the government for a change in consumer legislation.

"We have tested the law and it has been found wanting," he said. "In
newspapers, television and on billboards, companies have to advertise the
true cost of goods. If a petrol company advertised a litre of petrol at 25p
- excluding tax, it would be illegal. It should be the same with internet
advertising for flights.

"We thought that by bringing this prosecution we would be able to show that
the Consumer Protection Act also applies to internet advertising. But the
jury's verdict shows that it doesn't, and we will now lobby [the] government
for change. Ryanair advertises in this way because it makes their flights
look cheaper."

He called the decision a "victory for small print".

Caroline Green, head of consumer services at the airline said: "Ryanair's
internet banner headline advertising - eg 4.99 exclusive of tax - was not
misleading to customers. Ninety-eight percent of our customers book via the
internet. We have 30 million customers a year and we have not had a single
complaint about our advertising."

Mr Hill said trading standards authorities around the country had received
complaints about the way in which airlines advertised internet prices.



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