The European Commission has rejected a complaint that Lufthansa breached the EU code of conduct on computer reservations systems (CRSs) when it imposed a GDS booking fee in 2015.
But the European Technology and Travel Services Association (ETTSA) has dismissed the grounds on which the EC rejected the compliant as “unacceptable”.
ETTSA has called on the European Parliament to “reprimand the Commission and insist it fulfil its role” and demanded MEPs “investigate the process” and “the influence potentially taken by the Commission’s political hierarchy”.
The Commission wrote to ETTSA and other complainants at the end of May, telling them it “does not intend to conduct a further investigation” despite the Directorate General for Mobility and Transport (DG-MOVE) spending more than two years examining the complaints and notifying ETTSA last November that it had reached a legal decision.
Instead, the EC directorate argues it considers it “inappropriate to act” because “the rules relied upon in the complaint are under review and may be amended” and “parties affected by the alleged infringement have the possibility to seek redress before national courts”.
ETTSA secretary general Christoph Klenner said: “It is unacceptable. The Commission is doing everyone a disservice.”
The association, which represents leading global distribution systems (GDSs) and online travel agents (OTAs) in Brussels, described the decision to withhold a ruling as “a purely political decision”.
The association submitted a complaint against Lufthansa in September 2015.
This argued Lufthansa breached provisions of EC Regulation 80/2009 on a code of conduct for CRSs when the airline group imposed a €16 ‘distribution cost charge’ (DCC) on GDS bookings from September 1 that year and simultaneously launched an online portal, LHGroup-agent, through which intermediaries using GDSs could avoid the fee.
Complaints were also filed by the European tour operators’ and travel agents’ association ETCAA, by German corporate travel association the VDR and by a group of OTAs which have since joined ETTSA as partners.
IAG-owned British Airways and Iberia and Air France-KLM have since followed Lufthansa in levying GDS fees and opening agency portals – BA and Iberia last November and Air France-KLM this year.
In its complaint, ETTSA argued the Lufthansa portal acts as a CRS “within the meaning of the code of conduct” and the airline was engaged in “discriminatory behaviour” in favour of its own CRS.
The 2009 regulation stipulates that “air services by all airlines are displayed in a non-discriminatory way on travel agencies’ computer screens . . . as these distribution channels might influence consumer choice”.
Klenner told Travel Weekly: “The intention to reject the complaint is not a surprise, but they have not rejected the complaint on its merits.
“They have simply reserved the right not to enforce the legislation [on the grounds that] it might at some point be revised.”
He said: “DG-Move was ready with a substantive decision. We met the Commission in November and they said the decision was ready. Nothing happened for six months, then we received this very odd letter.”
The suspicion is that EC secretary general Martin Selmayr, whose appointment in March this year drew widespread criticism, ordered a halt.
Klenner said: “It is unacceptable for the Commission to refuse to enforce a regulation which is in force only because there may be a revision.
“The regulation is a pan-European regulation and the EC is the sole enforcer of these rules.
“You can’t address this type of abuse in a national market. These airlines fly all over the place. In addition, the behaviour has spread to IAG and Air France-KLM.”
He added: “If the Commission felt Lufthansa acted well within its rights, it would have rejected the complaint on substance.”
Klenner said: “None of the lawyers [we have spoken to] have seen this type of response before.
“This would not stand the test of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), but it would take two to three years to get a decision and the ECJ decision could not be anything but ‘please enforce the rules’.
“That would just take us back to where we were at the beginning [in 2015].”
He described MEPs as “furious”.
When MEPs debated the issue in the European Parliament last October, Czech MEP Pavel Telicka queried the delay in making a decision on the complaint, asking: “Is it because it is Lufthansa.”
Portuguese MEP Claudia Monteiro de Agular, a member of the Parliament’s transport and tourism commission, told fellow MEPs: “We need to guarantee consumers have access to neutral information. Is Lufthansa breaking EU law or not?”
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