Ryanair takes legal action against Google and eDreams over 'mis-sold' flights
'Don't be evil'
Ryanair has launched legal action against Google and travel website eDreams over claims that consumers are being conned into mistakenly believing they are booking flights direct with the airline.
Searches for Ryanair on Google can result in a paid advert for eDreams at the top of the page, which the Dublin-based carrier described as a link to a "copycat website with identical Ryanair branding in order to deceive consumers".
The airline believes this is in breach of the search engine's own code of conduct, which includes the phrase "don't be evil".
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said the airline receives around 1,000 complaints every month from passengers who have booked with eDreams.
He told a press conference in London that these ranged from advertising fares that do not exist and charging hidden fees without permission, to not notifying travellers of changes to flight times or not processing payments for checked baggage, meaning passengers have to pay again at the airport.
The legal action has been launched at the High Court in Ireland for alleged breach of consumer protection legislation and trademark infringement.
Mr O'Leary said: "We have to defend these consumers who are being blatantly deceived and mis-sold."
Ryanair's chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, claimed that customers booking on eDreams are paying an average of 30-100% more than if they had paid the airline direct.
"People are being ripped off on the fares, ripped off on hidden fees and given a bad travel experience," he said.
He told reporters that Ryanair has been in "fairly constant contact" with Google but that their latest letters were ignored and not enough action has been taken.
Mr O'Leary said he writes to Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt every week to pass on more complaints from angry customers.
He added: "Once we get to the steps of the court I imagine Google will remarkably change or alter the way they do the paid for (advertising) service."
The eDreams site features a photograph of a Ryanair plane and appears to use the airline's branding.
But a statement at the bottom of the page accepts that it "has no link with the official website of the airline here above mentioned".
A survey a 2,000 adults commissioned by Ryanair found that 82% of people believe the eDreams site is operated by the airline.
Ryanair said that it has recently won a court case in Germany which banned eDreams from "deceptive advertising". It is planning further legal action in the UK, Spain and Italy.