Hundreds of airline Web sites may break EU law

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BRUSSELS, Oct 13 (Reuters) Hundreds of Web sites selling air tickets could be breaking the law by adding extra charges to advertised prices, a coordinated investigation by EU countries has found.

In a ''consumer sweep'', a new type of enforcement action, 17 European Union countries investigated in late September whether airline ticket-selling Web sites complied with EU consumer laws on pricing, European Commission spokeswoman Helen Kearns said.

''The number of Web sites found (under suspicion) at the moment, and we haven't got the final results, is in the hundreds,'' she said today.

As well as hidden charges, terms and conditions were also under the spotlight, with some Web sites suspected of publishing them in languages consumers do not understand, she said.

''The results are just coming back in and we need to coordinate with the different authorities. We will publish the results together in a couple of weeks' time,'' she said.

Companies suspected of infringements would not be named at that time, but national authorities would ask them to clarify how their Web sites comply with the law or to take corrective action, Kearns said.

She said the EU's executive Commission hoped that in two or three months' time it could publish a list of firms that had taken corrective action and any that were problematic and had refused to change.

Any penalties would be at national level and could involve fines and the closure of Web sites.

The move is part of a better-regulation initiative under new Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, Kearns said.

''Consumer rights are no good if they're just on paper, they have to be enforced,'' the spokeswoman said. ''This is a new way of doing business.'' REUTERS GL RN1716

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