The European Union’s Council of Ministers formally adopted a new set of rules on consumer rights that could have far-reaching consequences for the airline industry and other companies in the travel sector.

The package of rules, called the EU Consumer Rights Directive, prohibits online traders from charging consumers more for paying by credit card (or other means of payment) than what it actually costs the trader to offer such means of payment.

Since the new rules apply primarily to what the EU called “distance” purchases — those made online or by telephone — carriers such as Lufthansa, which plans to impose credit card surcharges ranging from €5 to €18 beginning next month, must decide whether they want to treat their offline customers differently.

Ryanair, meanwhile, charges €6 for all payment methods except the MasterCard Prepaid Card and the Ryanair Cash Passport.

Some of the new rules are unclear as to their applicability.

One provision states that “traders who operate telephone hotlines allowing the consumer to contact them in relation to the contract will not be able charge more than the basic telephone rate for the telephone calls.”

Many airlines charge fees for reservations made via their call centers.

Ryanair and other carriers with a high dependency on ancillary services may face bigger issues with the rules.

“Traders have to disclose the total cost of the product or service, as well as any extra fees,” the EU said in a “Top 10 Benefits” list. “Online shoppers will not have to pay charges or other costs if they were not properly informed before they place an order.”

Ryanair includes the lengthy list of its fees in its contract of carriage, posted on its website, but it remains to be seen whether the EU’s enforcement agencies will deem that adequate disclosure.

“Pre-ticked boxes” for purchases of extras are banned under the new rules.

Some airlines have offered additional services, such as trip insurance, to online customers that are already checked.

A customer who does not want to purchase the service must uncheck the box – assuming he or she notices it.

Passenger transport is excluded from most of the new rules, including a provision that allows consumers to change their minds about a purchase within 14 days.

But the EU stressed that “the provisions of this Directive protecting consumers against excessive fees for the use of means of payment or against hidden costs should apply also to passenger transport contracts.”

Businesses will have two years to implement the new rules.

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