A coalition of Europe’s largest online travel agents has called on UK regulators to urgently investigate potential “infringements of customers’ data privacy rights” by Ryanair, escalating a long-running row between the groups.
In a letter addressed to the CMA, CAA and ICO, companies including Expedia Group, On the Beach and Skyscanner argued that Ryanair’s verification process for passengers booking via a third party, rather than directly, could be in breach of data protection laws.
The process includes uploading a “substantial amount of sensitive personal information” in order to access booking or check-in online, they claim, with the low-cost carrier making it as “difficult and invasive as possible”.
The letter, seen by City A.M., notes that personal information required by the facial recognition process includes “race and gender” and could expose passengers to “significant risks to their privacy, rights and freedoms in the event of a data breach”.
The companies said that they can only assume Ryanair’s “real motivation” for the checks is to make consumers feel they have “no choice but to book directly” with the airline in future.
Today’s feud is just the latest in a long-running dispute between online booking agents and the Dublin-based airline over third party bookings.
Airlines prefer passengers to book direct so they can rake in greater revenues by offering a maze of fees, in-flight offers and options to pay for seats.
Ryanair, however, claim that online travel agents (OTAs) are engaged in malpractice. Just last week, it launched fresh calls for passengers to book direct.
“OTAs continue to mislead passengers to believe they are getting the cheapest price… by falsely advertising lower fares than the airlines themselves,” the carrier claimed.
An ICO spokesperson said: “Organisations must only collect the personal information that they need for their specified purposes and no more. Where they are collecting biometric data in order to identify people, they must meet specific conditions set out in law.”
“We have received the letter from Online Travel UK and recognise the concerns raised about the collection of biometric data by Ryanair, alongside the stress and uncertainty experienced by customers worried about their travel plans.
“We will consider the issues raised in the letter and will be making enquiries with Ryanair.”
The CAA and CMA were contacted for comment.