The Irish airline has long complained about eDreams, which it claims masquerades as Ryanair to sell its seats at inflated prices and causes problems with customers’ bookings. But it has turned its attention to Google as internet searches for Ryanair promote the eDreams website and an eDreams subsidiary, Opodo – as well as Google’s own flight search adverts – above Ryanair’s site.
Ryanair says it has received thousands of complaints from consumers and accused Google of misleading customers and breaching its own code of conduct.
The airline’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said on Tuesday he forwarded the emails to the inbox of his Google counterpart, Eric Schmidt, and the Irish high court proceedings were an attempt to force action after Ryanair’s complaints were ignored.
O’Leary has been incensed that eDreams is advertising lower, non-existent fares, and using a web address whose URL contains the name Ryanair and uses its branding. In a survey conducted on behalf of the airline, 82% of adults believed it was an official Ryanair site.
Ryanair says that as well as being subject to additional charges, consumers have experienced problems with their bookings such as contact details being omitted, and checked luggage and additional passengers not being recognised.
The airline has been engaged in legal action around Europe against eDreams, a global travel website headquartered in Spain. A recent ruling in Germany has stopped eDreams including the word Ryanair in its German domain name.
Ryanair’s chief marketing officer said the airline had no choice but to take legal action against both Google and eDreams. The subdomain, branding and design were “a deliberate attempt to dupe consumers into thinking they are directly booking Ryanair’s low fares”, Kenny Jacobs said.
“Our repeated calls for greater Google advert transparency, or for Google to comply with their own code of conduct, have been ignored, and in order to prevent thousands more consumers being misled on the Google search engine, we have commenced these high court proceedings.
“We have no problem with Google charging advertisers on its paid search function, but we expect Google to ensure that this advertising is honest and transparent.”
Jacobs admitted the Ryanair of old, before its conversion to improved customer service, may not have taken the high ground over eDreams: “Three years ago we wouldn’t have been sitting here, telling Google to do the right thing ... it’s a bit poacher turned gamekeeper.”
O’Leary added: “I got a lot of things wrong in the past. But we never engaged in this kind of deception.”
He said while previous Ryanair practices, such as making customers opt out of buying travel insurance or charging for most payment cards, were “egregious errors we made”, consumers had been able to buy their advertised low fares in significant quantities. In contrast, he said: “These guys advertise fares on Ryanair that simply don’t exist.”
The chief executive said there was a “notional” financial impact on the airline but the legal move was an attempt to stem the complaints and preserve Ryanair’s new, improved reputation.
EasyJet has also had longstanding complaints against eDreams, and has warned that passengers who book through third-party websites often do not have their details correctly registered – an issue the airline believes contributed to difficulties faced by passengers stranded last month in Sharm el-Sheikh who said they were not contacted by the airline.
An eDreams spokesperson said: “The case against Google and eDreams has only just been filed so there is little we can say beyond the fact that we disagree strongly with Ryanair’s position. This action is clearly just another attempt from Ryanair to stop Online Travel Agencies from offering consumers the best price and choice when it comes to booking flights.”
Google had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.
This article was written by Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 1st December 2015 17.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010