Ryanair could be charged with breaching European “denied boarding” regulations by turning away passengers at check-in who have bought flights through screen-scraping websites.
Lawyers for the Civil Aviation Authority were studying whether the carrier could be charged following its announcement of the anti-screen scraping policy last week and a leading industry lawyer suggested Ryanair might struggle to defend itself.
A CAA spokesman said: “We are looking closely at the impact this has on denied-boarding rules and taking advice.”
However, Ryanair said no passengers had been turned away, despite widespread publicity for its threat. It also agreed no UK passengers were at risk of being turned away as its action is directed against sites in Italian.
Media reports suggested 1,000 people a day who booked through “internet travel agents” could be refused boarding.
The threat provoked anger in the trade, with ABTA accusing Ryanair of “unfair trading practice” and requesting the Office of Fair Trading intervene, while Bath Travel managing director Stephen Bath expressed “outrage”.
Industry sources suggested a successful prosecution was unlikely, since Ryanair’s terms and conditions specify that only tickets bought from its website are valid – so passengers booked via a screen-scraping site would not have a valid ticket.
That view was confirmed by the Air Transport Users Council which handles consumer complaints about airlines. Its chief executive Simon Evans said: “It is a despicable thing to do. But these passengers probably do not have a valid reservation.”
However, travel lawyer Stephen Mason believes Ryanair could be in breach of European regulations, having accepted passengers booked via these websites up to now.
He said: “Where a term or condition is persistently waived, these terms cease to have an effect. Ryanair has waived its right to rely on its terms and conditions in relation to bookings already made and should honour them.”
Passengers who book with third-party websites which re-direct customers to the Ryanair site at the point of booking are not at risk.