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Italy's antitrust regulator probing Ryanair

By Earle Gale in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-17 03:03

File photo taken on Dec 24, 2016 shows a Ryanair aircraft landing at Ciampino Airport in Rome, Italy. [Photo/Agencies]

The low-cost Irish airline Ryanair has been accused of using its leading market position in Italy to disadvantage travel agents and block them from accessing special offers on tickets.

Italy's antitrust regulator, the Autorita Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, or AGCM, said it is looking into the allegations, and that Ryanair has eight days to present its side of the case.

The AGCM said complainants had said Ryanair, which is Italy's largest carrier by passenger numbers, had been directing customers toward its website, with claims that tickets bought directly were the cheapest available and by ensuring customers could only benefit from discounts if they bought tickets through the platform.

The AGCM said Ryanair had also reportedly claimed customers who book directly through its website benefit from simpler processes when making changes to bookings and when requesting refunds. And the airline has also reportedly said unauthorized online travel agencies add hidden extra fees to their prices, and often fail to share relevant information with the carrier.

The AGCM said it was concerned the messaging was causing "serious and irreparable" damage to travel agencies, to other airlines, and to passengers.

Specifically, the AGCM said it will be looking into whether Ryanair had denied physical and online travel agencies access to offers and discounts available on its website.

The Il Messaggero newspaper said Ryanair could be granted a hearing as soon as April 18.

The airline told the Reuters news agency it believes online travel agencies had misled the AGCM during its investigation, and that the regulator had wrongly ignored a Milan Court of Appeal ruling in January that found the company's direct online sales policy was reasonable.

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary told Reuters: "The Milan Court also ruled that Ryanair undoubtedly benefits consumers, which clearly disproves this AGCM case."

Il Messaggero said the AGCM probe could conclude with Ryanair being ordered to allow travel companies full access to its online deals.

The AGCM probe comes as a dispute between the airline and the Italian government continues, over the airline's pricing policies on routes between the Italian mainland and Italian islands.

The government has ordered the airline to cut prices on some of its routes, while the airline has responded by saying it and its subsidiaries — which include Buzz, Lauda Europe, Malta Air, Ryanair DAC, and Ryanair UK — could lower fares more effectively if they had access to more flight slots. The company said routes out of Rome's Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport would be especially beneficial.

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