Airlines face a clampdown on imposing hidden last minute fees on items ranging from airport check in charges to re-issuing boarding passes.
The Civil Aviation Authority plans a probe into carriers amid concern that too many passengers are being hit by “unfair” charges.
The review is likely to cover fees to check-in at the airport, printing out boarding passes, payment with credit cards, storing luggage in the hold, changing names on bookings and reclaiming air taxes from missed flights.
Sources told The Times that the regulator could take court action against airlines found to be flouting the Consumer Rights Act, introduced last year to give customers greater protection from small print.
It follows claims that airlines in Europe made almost £13 billion last year through additional charges and the sale of extras such as food, insurance and duty free.
The CAA will start an investigation this summer into the terms and conditions imposed by airlines on passengers.
The authority said that the investigation would cover administration fees and additional charges to see if they are proportionate, easily understood and clearly displayed.
The review will also cover whether passengers are given enough notice and proper warning before the changing of flight times.
It said that enforcement proceedings, including court action, could be taken against airlines found to be cheating passengers.
CAA spokesman said the investigation is "about making sure airlines are open and clear so that people understand what they are actually paying for".
He added: "You've got the headline price of the ticket, but are there any additional things that people have to be aware of that they will have to pay for?"
Aviation minister Robert Goodwill was reported as saying the review would ensure that the “rights and obligations of the consumers and businesses are fair and balanced and consumers are not being penalised by unfair contract terms”.
The CAA has issued legal undertakings against airlines and travel companies 18 times in the past five years over breaches of passenger rights. This includes failing to provide compensation for flight delays.
The legal website CaseHub is building two class action cases against airlines over fees, including one levelled at Ryanair over hidden charges.
Michael Green, the website’s founder, said: “It is a lazy myth that these fees help subsidise low air fares.
“The price of an air fare primarily consists of tax and things unrelated to passenger costs. Fees sometimes lack transparency and, more frustratingly, are often gratuitous.”
A Ryanair spokesman said: "All Ryanair charges and fees are clearly outlined on the Ryanair.com website and throughout the entire booking process.
"Customers are asked to ensure that the details they enter at the time of booking are correct before completing their booking and we offer a 24 hour ‘grace period’ to correct minor booking errors."
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