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Test Achats takes airlines to court over no-show clause

Sep 5, 2017
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Passengers turned away from flights despite holding valid tickets

Belgian consumer organisation Test Achats is challenging Brussels Airlines in court over the no-show clause this month. Following complaints by passengers and years of campaigning, it has brought the test case to a Belgian tribunal on the grounds that the practice is unfair.

The no-show clause allows airlines to cancel reservations of passengers who have missed either the first leg of a multi-itinerary journey or the outbound flight of a round-trip itinerary. It also applies to multi-itinerary tickets that include a train journey. Numerous scheduled airline companies include the no-show clause in their contracts.

It stipulates that if one of the journeys is not used (missing the flight for whatever reason), the remaining journeys are rendered invalid, even though they have been paid for and have not been cancelled. The passenger has no choice but to pay a supplement, buy another ticket, or take another flight, possibly requiring an overnight stay, all at additional cost.

The system enables companies to sell the same seat twice. Their justification is that this is a commercial necessity. In the face of competition from other companies, they sell return tickets at a lower price than two singles and when passengers book multiple tickets, further reductions are made. If the clause did not exist, they argue, the whole of their pricing strategy would tumble down.

Test-Achats contests this, saying that it is but one part of any marketing plan, and low-cost companies such as Ryanair and Wizzair do not apply the clause.

There are no laws forbidding the clause in Europe, hence the campaign by Test Achats and consumer groups in other countries to force the European Union to take action. Although the European Commission has issued a proposal to partially ban such clauses (supported and reinforced by the European parliament), the council has removed the relevant provision from the legislative proposal, according to the EU Public Interest Clinic and European consumers organisation BEUC.

But in some EU countries, courts have reacted. Spain, Germany and Austria have decided that the clause contravenes national legislation founded on European directives. Companies that have been condemned, include British Airways, Lufthansa and Iberia Airlines.

In Belgium, Test Achats hopes for a similar outcome. It is asking for the clause to be declared invalid and that passengers should be compensated for damages resulting from the application of the clause. It argues that the no-show clause creates a significant imbalance between the aviation company and the passenger and the loss of the total ticket when one leg has not been used, is disproportionate and totally unjustified.

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