The European Technology & Travel Services Association (ETTSA) has filed a formal complaint with the European Ombudsman against the European Commission for failing to take action against Lufthansa for imposing a fee on non-direct ticket sales.

Lufthansa introduced the €16 surcharge in 2015, leading to widespread criticism in the business travel industry.

The Business Travel Coalition formed the Air Channel Choice campaign group shortly afterward to contend the fee as restricting distribution channel choice for agencies and their customers.

ETTSA issued an official complaint to the European Commission (EC) over the charge in September 2015, claiming it ‘discriminated’ against customers who used independent agents to book their tickets rather than using direct channels such as Lufthansa’s website. It said the practice was in breach of key provisions of the EU’s code of conduct on computerised reservation systems (CRSs).

Other carriers and airline groups, including British Airways and Iberia, replicated what was dubbed the ‘GDS booking fee’, introducing similar charges to their own non-direct fares.

Like Lufthansa, these airlines proceeded to strike deals with agencies and TMCs to offer direct connections in order to avoid the booking fee where possible. Lufthansa has since confirmed that it is tacking additional discounts to bookings made through New Distribution Capability (NDC) channels.

In late May 2018, after three years of assessment, the EC announced that it did not intend to act on ETTSA’s complaint because it “no longer reflects market reality and that it may be revised in the future”.

ETTSA has now gone to the ombudsman, saying the EC “failed to act within a reasonable time limit”. It also says the EC claimed it could stop investigating the complaint in relation to the CRS code of conduct because of potential future changes.

ETTSA claims the EC “did not deny that Lufthansa’s conduct is illegal but stopped short of enforcing EU law”, thereby giving Lufthansa the “thumbs-up” on “unfair conduct”.

Christoph Klenner, secretary general of ETTSA, said: “Our complaint in front of the ombudsman is only a first step. We also call on the services of DG Competition to rigorously look into Lufthansa’s practices and those of the other large carriers that have followed its lead and are considering further actions. The EU’s regulatory framework does not allow for the sort of discrimination that Lufthansa is using to punish consumers and push its competitors out of the market. The commission should therefore act to protect European consumers.

“We are fortunate that many members of the European Parliament are siding with consumers on this important issue. At a public hearing on 10 July, Transport Committee chairwoman Karima Delli and MEPs Wim van de Camp, Deirdre Clune and Ana-Claudia Tapardel said in no uncertain terms that the commission must enforce EU law in the interest of competition and to the benefit of European travellers.”

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