Who: United Airlines
When: 12 February
Law as stated at: 8 March 2015
A mistake on United Airline’s website caused by a third party software supplier meant that first class transatlantic flights were offered to consumers for as little as £50 when they bought tickets through the Danish version of the United Airlines website. United Airlines have, however, announced that they will not honour these tickets and cancelled thousands of bookings, primarily bought by consumers in the UK and USA.
The glitch was initially picked up by and publicised by a travel blog. This informed consumers that, if they changed their host country to Denmark they were able to buy a return flight from London Heathrow to Newark for 491 kroner (around £50). Passengers were able to buy either first class or business class tickets.
Advice on the internet urged users to use a credit card without a foreign transaction fee and not to sign into their United Airlines account, so as to try and conceal their true country of residence. The fact that this process had to be gone through was important as it has enabled United Airlines to argue that most consumers had to repeatedly misrepresent their country of origin in order to avail themselves of the offer.
The airline’s terms and conditions of sale also allow it to cancel booking where an error has been made.
Also, although it is not clear from press reports, the airline’s terms and conditions may have adopted the normal ecommerce approach, which is to make it clear that by completing and submitting an order, the consumer is simply making an offer to purchase. This will only result in a binding contract, the terms and conditions will state, if it is accepted by the trader.
Why this matters:
Despite complaints in social media by disappointed purchasers, United Airlines is sticking to its guns. It has also placed a general announcement on its website that the Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has informed United that it does not intend to pursue enforcement action in this matter.
The story underlines the importance of ensuring that online sales terms and conditions make all necessary provision so as to give the trader maximum protection should pricing gremlins or hackers strike and the loophole is quickly publicised on a global basis.