Watchdog criticised over anti-Ryanair ‘bias’ in screen scraping battle

A parliamentary ombudsman has criticised the Office of Far Trading for failing to investigate a complaint by Ryanair over screenscraping websites that mis-sell its fares.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman found the OFT had failed to provide “a sufficiently robust response” to issues raised by the airline and that its conclusions were “not evidence based”.

Its findings prompted Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary to write to OFT chairman Philip Collins complaining of the watchdog’s “bias” against the airline, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The no frills carrier alerted the watchdog in August 2008 to the activities of some screenscrapers – price comparison websites that scrape data off other sites to get the best prices.

It complained they were adding hidden “intermediary fees” of up to €20 (£16) that do not exist for users of Ryanair’s own website and claiming to add discounts to fares when they did not.

O’Leary was quoted as highlighting On The Beach, Bravofly and E-dreams as among the “worst offenders”

“Passengers are being charged fares that bear no relation to the ones on our website and many of the people who turn up at airports without printing boarding cards have come from these screen-scraping sites who aren’t telling them our terms and conditions,” he said. “We’ve been asking the OFT to look into this for years but they’ve just sat on their hands.”

Ryanair made a formal complaint about the OFT to the ombudsman in April.

The ombudsman’s report said: “It does not seem as though the OFT have carried out a robust consideration of Ryanair’s complaints.”

It found that, despite the airline providing evidence of customer complaints about the sites, including screen shots, “it does not appear that the OFT have fully taken this information into account or investigated further”.

Neither had the OFT based its “reasoning on evidence” when it asserted that “other airlines had not highlighted complaints similar to those raised by Ryanair”.

An OFT spokesman said: “We strongly dispute the criticisms made of the OFT by the ombudsman and we will be taking this matter forward with the ombudsman.”

On the Beach marketing director Alistair Daly told the newspaper that the company was one of 36 online travel agents that had been threatened with legal action in Dublin by Ryanair.

“We are disputing Irish jurisdiction, and in any event will robustly refute the allegations made by Ryanair,” he said.

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