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How will air travel in Spain change after crackdown on 'abusive fees'?

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
How will air travel in Spain change after crackdown on 'abusive fees'?
Despite the Ministry's ruling, airlines will continue to make extra charges this summer. Photo: Pexels/Oleksandr P.

After budget airlines including Ryanair and EasyJet were fined €150 million by Spain's Ministry of Consumer Affairs for 'abusive practices' against passengers, many are asking what will change in terms of hand luggage and seat selection fees.

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On May 31st Spain's Ministry of Consumer Affairs handed out a historic fine to four budget airlines, citing 'abusive practices' against passengers.

The airlines, which included Ryanair, EasyJet, Volotea and Vueling (all companies that are major players in the Spanish market) were fined €150 million between them by the Ministry following an investigation opened in June 2023.

The practices, deemed 'abusive' by the Ministry included applying extra charges for taking hand luggage on board and for seat selection when accompanied by children or dependent persons.

READ ALSO: Spain fines airlines €150 million for abusive practices against passengers

Following this news, many passengers will be wondering what happens next. In theory, airlines will no longer be able to charge passengers for things like hand luggage and printing boarding passes.

The consumer association Facua, one of two, along with the OCU, that pushed the initial investigation, has advised passengers that they have the right to claim compensation for certain extra charges.

However, in reality the Ministry's announcement was the beginning of what will likely be a long legal process. As such, little is likely to change for passengers in the short-term future, and moving forward isn't entirely clear either.

Here's what we know so far.

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Can airlines continue charging?

For now, yes. The Airline Association (ALA) has stressed that, for the moment, charging for hand luggage (and other extra charges) is not illegal because the sanctions are not final and because, in addition, the four airlines have the option to appeal the decision anyway.

In its ruling the Ministry makes it clear that, based on current legislation, airlines have the right to determine the measurements for hand luggage that can be carried on board their airline, but they may not charge any extra for that luggage.

However, in practice nothing has changed for consumers yet. Travelling this summer, you are likely still going to have to pay these extra charges, for now, should they arise. As the airlines are likely to appeal, it means that nothing is likely to change for a while, possibly even years.

Is this a final decision?

No, because the airlines can (and likely will) challenge the decision. All four airlines have the right to appeal the decision, first before the Ministry of Consumer of Affairs and then before the Spanish courts, if necessary.

Facua has stated that a final resolution to the ruling could take years because the airlines may even appeal the decision in the Supreme Court if they have to.

Moreover, even if the courts were to rule in favour of Consumer Affairs, it is unclear exactly how things would play out. Airlines would have to pay the fine but it would be unlikely that a Spanish court alone could force airlines to actually change their policies.

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How long will the legal process take?

Months, possibly years. Once the sanction has been finalised, the airlines then have a month to lodge an appeal with the Ministry, a procedure that will last about three months. If they wish, the airlines can then make an appeal in the courts, starting at the Audiencia Nacional, something that each of them will have to do individually, and then can take the claim up the courts, which takes more time.

Therefore, for passengers travelling to and from Spain this summer, you will still have to pay these extra charges.

Can I claim compensation?

Despite that, Facua has started the process of helping passengers claim compensation. Even if the decision isn't final, you are able to at least start the process of reclaiming something.

Facua has launched an online platform for people affected by extra charges. Affected passengers can join the platform here: FACUA.org/aerofraudes.

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Why were the airlines fined?

A note from the OCU gives more detail on the practices in question and states that the sanctions were imposed for the following abusive business practices:

1. Extra charges for booking an adjacent seat for accompanying minors or dependent persons.
2. Extra charges for hand luggage in the cabin.
3. Lack of clarity on the ticket price, meaning that the final price paid is often higher than originally advertised.
4. Not allowing cash payments both at the airport and on the plane.
5. Applying a surcharge for reprinting boarding passes at the airport (only in the case of Ryanair).

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