EU High Court Gives Airline a Pass on Charges

     (CN) – In a rare court victory for EU airlines – and an even rarer defeat for travelers – the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that national laws blocking carriers from charging checked-luggage fees violate pricing-freedom guarantees.
     The ruling stems from a dispute between a Spanish woman and low-fare airline Vueling, which charged her $54 when she indicated she would be checking two bags. The woman’s complaint against Vueling eventually resulted in a $4,100 administrative fine.
     Vueling claimed on appeal that the Spanish law prohibiting charges for checked luggage violates EU regulations. The appeals court asked the European high court to address whether those regulations applied in the wake of restrictions on carriers that promise low fares, but nickel-and-dime travelers for any and all of the in-flight experience.
     Following the opinion of its adviser this past January, the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice found Thursday that EU regulations bar national laws requiring airlines to carry both passengers and their checked bags for the price of a plane ticket.
     The reason – the justices said – is that while carry-ons are considered “necessary items” for passengers, checked bags are not.
     “Airlines’ commercial practices have traditionally consisted of allowing passengers to check in baggage without incurring supplementary charges,” the opinion states. “However, given that airlines’ business models have evolved considerably with the increasingly popular use of air transport, it must be observed that certain companies now follow a business model that consists of offering air services at the lowest price. In those circumstances, the costs relating to carrying baggage as a component of the price of those services has, in relative terms, greater significance than before and the airlines concerned may accordingly wish to require a price supplement to be paid for that service. Furthermore, it cannot be ruled out that some air passengers prefer to travel without checking in baggage, on the basis that doing so will reduce the price of their plane ticket.”
     Airlines are responsible for processing and storing luggage, and incur costs accordingly, the court noted. It said air carriers should be able to pass on those costs – provided they follow EU price transparency guidelines from the start of the booking process and are on an opt-in basis.
     Whether Vueling followed that aspect of EU law is for the Spanish court to decide, the high court concluded.
     Vueling carried nearly 15 million passengers in 2012, making it Spain’s second-largest airline. The Barcelona-based carrier serves 106 destinations throughout Europe, Africa and Asia.

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