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easyJet warns Expedia: 'Hands off our flights'

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Exclusive Budget airline easyJet.co.uk has warned Expedia.co.uk to stop selling its flights via its website or face the possibility of legal action.

An easyJet spokeswoman told The Register yesterday that the UK arm of Expedia, whose parent company is US-based Expedia Inc, has "no business relationship whatsoever" with the holiday e-tail outfit. Despite that, the firm continues to flog easyJet flights at jacked up prices to customers who are presumably none-the-wiser that a “middle-man” is effectively pocketing their hard-earned holiday cash.

“We have written to Expedia and asked them to stop selling flights. They are currently doing so without our express permission,” said the easyJet spokeswoman. She added that "legal action could follow" if Expedia doesn't heed the airline's warnings.

Of course it’s normal practice within the travel industry for companies, acting as a third party, to sell flights on behalf of airline firms. But easyJet, which was established by serial entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou in 1995, doesn’t have such an arrangement in place because its business model is entirely based on direct sales.

We were alerted to the issue after El Reg reader Neil contacted us regarding a problem he was having with Expedia’s ticket system.

He booked a holiday to Marrakech, Morocco via Expedia’s website on the 19 June but didn’t receive confirmation of his easyJet flight even though he had paid in full for the trip.

Neil contacted Expedia to find out why it had cocked up his order. He told us via email: “They admitted that there is an ongoing problem with their system talking to easyJet, and they confirmed that my flight had indeed NOT been booked!” he said. “When asked when they were going to tell me, their response was, ‘Well it says on your itinerary that it’s not been confirmed’.”

So we put a call into Expedia to find out if it was suffering technical glitches with its system. Unsurprisingly, following our intervention, the firm quickly scrambled to rectify Neil’s booking.

It also gave us this canned statement: “Of the 0.5 per cent of customers who contact us each year regarding their booking, 97 per cent of enquiries are resolved within 28 days. We are committed to customer satisfaction and are continually working to make the customer experience even better.”

Anatomy of a 'relationship'

We asked Expedia to tell us why it continued to sell easyJet flights – at a higher price – without consent from the carrier.

The firm said in a statement: “Expedia.co.uk is unable to comment on our business relationships with any suppliers or service providers.”

However, easyJet’s spokeswoman reiterated to us that it doesn’t have a business relationship with Expedia. We also asked her to clarify how Expedia obtains the flight information and prices from easyJet.

She told us that Expedia and other e-tailers grab the details from the airline’s website using a “screen scraper”, a method in which a computer program extracts data from the display output of another program.

Neil said he booked through Expedia because he thought it would be a quick, easy “bang, bang, click, click, click” process. However, his experience of the whole debacle has left him with concerns that other customers will be hood-winked by what he described as “a very confusing system.”

It also prompted him to ask the question: “What if I had turned up at the airport to go on holiday? How many will turn up and find they have no flights?”

We put that reasonable query to Expedia but it refused to comment on its flight-selling technique. ®

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