UK Politics

Airline ticket 'discrimination' concern

IATA promotional video
Image caption IATA says the new system will be fully compliant with all data protection laws

A new booking system for air tickets could see some passengers being discriminated against due to their nationality, age or race, MEPs claim.

The airlines want to offer more options to passengers booking tickets through price comparison sites, such as in-flight movies and wider seats.

At the moment choice is mostly limited to business or economy class, unless customers go to the carrier's own site.

But the plan has raised concerns about data protection and "profiling".

Customers will still be able to shop for tickets anonymously when the New Distribution Capability (NDC), currently being trialled, is introduced.

But they could also have the option to give personal details to airlines, such as nationality, age, marital status, travel history, shopping history, previously purchased services, frequent flyer participation and whether the trip is intended for business or leisure.

'Sophisticated models'

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says this will enable airlines to offer an "Amazon-style" shopping experience to their customers, including personalised "just for you" fare offers.

But Labour MEP Claude Moraes says some passengers could end up paying more for the same flight based not on when they booked it, or whether they are in first class or not, but on who they are.

"Sophisticated models are being used to decide what you should be charged based on your nationality, ethnicity and spending habits. That crosses the line," he told the BBC News website.

Airlines will not ask customers for their race, but Mr Moraes claims they would be able to work it out from other information provided, potentially opening the door to discrimination.

"It is highly unlikely if you carry a Nigerian passport that you are going to be white," he told the BBC News website.

IATA which represents more than 400 airlines, including British Airways, Lufthansa, Air-France-KL and American Airlines, says concerns about "profiling" are totally unfounded.

'Free to choose'

Perry Flint, IATA's head of corporate communications, said: "Nothing in the NDC changes the legal responsibility airlines and travel agents have to protect the rights of consumers.

"Consumer information will not be treated any differently than it is today.

"In an NDC-based environment, consumers are free to choose whether to remain anonymous or whether they enter personal information. and, if they opt for the latter, what they will provide."

The European Commission's data protection watchdog, the Article 29 Working Party, is investigating NDC.

In a letter to IATA in April, it said the NDC project "raises a number of privacy and human rights concerns, in particular those related to the profiling of individuals".

Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, is also monitoring the NDC trial and the Commission's vice-president for mobility and transport, Siim Kallas, has raised "profiling" concerns with IATA.

In a letter last month to Mr Moraes and a group of other MEPs, Ms Reding said: "I share your concern that the amount of personal information processed by airlines and travel agents around the world for the simple reason of providing different ticket offers should be proportionate."

She said customers must have "unambiguously" given their consent for their data to be used to set prices and this was "particularly relevant when it comes to data which are sensitive in nature (for instance the name together with the nationality may reveal racial or ethnic origin)".

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