The battle between Ryanair and travel agencies continues. This time it is the latter that launch the offensive by taking the airline to court through a class action for unfair competition. It did there Fiavet, the trade association that adheres to Confcommercio and brings together around 1400 agencies and tour operators. The writ of summons was served at the Milan court in early July and the first hearing is expected in mid-December.
At the heart of the dispute is the sale of airline tickets, which Ryanair does only on its website. But the theme is not only that. If a single traveler is buying, there are no problems. But if an intermediary does it, the Irish carrier "first sells the ticket, and then tries in every way to hinder the online check-in procedure, for example by asking for facial recognition of each traveler, in a complex procedure and to be concluded in a limited time" he explains Federico Lucarelli, lawyer of Fiavet. "Let's imagine a school trip with over 50 students and teachers: it becomes extremely difficult, sometimes impossible for an agency to fulfill these obligations".
In addition, writes Fiavet in a note, "the check requires the passenger's signature to verify its authenticity, a practice that takes a maximum of 7 days and for which a copy of the passenger's document and a device equipped with a camera are still required". Ryanair is the only airline to set these limits, but it is not difficult to understand why the lawsuit started given that it is also the first in Italy for the number of passengers transported. To date, the company led by Michael O'Leary does not pay any commission to agencies that sell one of its tickets (and it is not the only one in this), but the business of commissions that operators ask their customers remains, around 10-15 euros per ticket.
“In this case we are not asking to review the commissions - Lucarelli points out - but that the judge recognizes our right to do our job: to sell airline tickets for our customers without being discriminated against. We remind you that the intermediation activity is foreseen by the Italian laws”. Fiavet is also asking for symbolic compensation which he identified as one hundred euros per agency.
Travel agencies have asked the consumer association Adiconsum to join the cause. “It is a decision that we are evaluating - explains the national secretary Andrea Di Palma - and that we will take after meeting Ryanair before the end of the summer: if they don't provide us with exhaustive explanations, we will participate. Facial recognition only for those who book through an agency, however, seems to be a discriminatory practice also against consumers who turn to this type of service, who are generally older and with less digital knowledge". Repubblica asked Ryanair for a comment on this matter, but no response was received from the company.
In 2020 Ryanair had accused online travel agencies (so let's not talk about the companies associated with Fiavet) of withholding Covid refunds intended for travelers for themselves. On that occasion, the carrier inaugurated the so-called "customer verification" with the aim of breaking the relationship between agencies and consumers, communicating only with the latter. The same logic that underlies the procedures reported today by Fiavet.
This battle began 16 years ago: "It was in 2007 that Ryanair changed its policy towards online travel agencies, preventing them from selling its tickets" he explains Marco Consonni, partner of the Orsingher Ortu associated studio: “However, in various European countries, court cases have led to sentences that have proved the agencies right, establishing that they have the right to act as intermediaries also for Ryanair tickets. We also had a sentence of this type, confirmed on appeal, in Italy”.