The Ministry of Consumer Affairs announced on Tuesday the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against several airlines (without specifying which ones) for not having a free telephone service for customers or, if they did, for hindering user access to it, which that “represents a breach of legal obligations in terms of customer service,” the department has indicated.
The regulations specify that the telephone must be accessible to all consumers and be free of charge (geographic or special rate numbers, for example, are not valid). Freephones are those that begin with the prefixes 800 or 900, called “automatic collect services”. Air transport, being considered a basic service of general interest, requires that the provider companies have to have a line of these characteristics, explains the Ministry. The rule came into force after the modification made in the last legislature of the General Law for the Defense of Consumers and Users, with the aim of providing protection to vulnerable consumers.
These irregularities could be fined for being minor or serious infractions, which carry penalties of between 150 and 10,000 euros, in the case of the former, and between 10,001 and 100,000 euros, in the case of serious ones. If the illicit benefit obtained from the infringing practices exceeded said amounts, the sanctions could reach between two and four times the illicit benefit obtained, for minor infractions; and between four and six times the illicit benefit obtained, for serious ones.
The department directed by Alberto Garzón already opened a file last week to several low-cost airlines for charging for hand luggage carried in the cabin. According to FACUA-Consumers in Action, the association that filed the complaint, among the companies filed are Ryanair, Vueling, Easyjet and Volotea.
It will be necessary to wait for the definitive resolution of both files because the Ministry of Consumption has announced during its mandate actions against the alleged abuses of the airlines that have had no real effect. One of those that had the most repercussions was the announcement in June 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, of a complaint in court against 17 airlines for not having correctly informed their customers of the refund option for canceled flights. However, there has been no further news of these alleged complaints and their outcome, without Garzón’s department having reported the matter since then.
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