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Ryanair cancels aggregator-booked tickets in escalating scraping war

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Ryanair has said that it will no longer honour bookings made through aggregator sites. The Irish budget airline said that cancelling would be quicker and more effective than lawsuits.

Ryanair recently sued aggregation company Bravofly in the Irish courts, claiming that its 'screen-scraping', or automatic collection of information from its site, breached Ryanair's terms and conditions and is unlawful.

It has now said that it will refuse to honour tickets bought via aggregators.

"Ryanair will [from Monday 11 August] introduce new procedures to cancel all passenger bookings made through screen-scraping websites," said Ryanair's Howard Miller. "We believe this is a quicker and more effective way of discouraging this unlawful activity and we hope that by getting rid of screenscrapers we will speed up passenger processing times on Ryanair.com, as well as ensuring that Ryanair passengers are not paying unnecessary handling charges or higher fares to screen-scrapers."

Ryanair's Irish case against Bravofly says that the company breaks laws on trade marks and copyright and that its use of Ryanair's content to sell its services amounts to 'passing off'.

Ryanair recently won a case in Germany against operator Vtours. It said the Hamburg court's ruling stops Vtours from using information from the Ryanair site to sell flights to Vtours customers.

"Ryanair believes these screen-scrapers are nothing more than video or software pirates and we will continue to campaign across Europe for legislation to prohibit this unlawful screen-scraping and this breach of copyright laws, which will prevent these profiteering middlemen from engaging in the mis-selling of Ryanair’s flights and information," said Ryanair's Michael Cawley after the Vtours ruling.

The cancelling of aggregator-booked tickets represents a more direct approach by the airline. It said that it is investigating further what technological measures it can put in place to prevent other firms from gathering the data in the first place.

"Ryanair is continuing to work with our software providers, Navitaire and Microsoft to proactively eliminate screen-scraping of Ryanair’s website," said Miller. "We hope this will ensure that genuine consumers can purchase Europe’s guaranteed lowest air fares while enjoying rapid access and quicker processing times for their bookings on Ryanair.com."

Aggregation companies have sprung up in recent years to facilitate price comparisons between services advertised online. It has been most popular in the personal finance and travel industries.

While most companies welcome the extra business such aggregation brings them, some do not and, like Ryanair, prohibit screen-scraping or any other commercial use of their website in their terms and conditions.

Ryanair claimed last week that Bravofly had stopped gathering information from its website in the aftermath of the filing of its suit. Bravofly said that this was not true, and that it has not suspended any activity as a result of the rulings.

Bravofly said that it provided a legitimate price comparison service, and that its technology added a value that its customers appreciate.

"It is only through Bravofly’s websites and through its exclusive technologies that consumers are able to find this information – information that is carefully hidden by airline companies, such as Ryanair, who systematically adopt an insidious policy of unjust taxes on the base prices of airline tickets," it said in a statement.

The cancelling of tickets booked by aggregators will not affect the customers of all aggregation businesses. Travelsupermarket.com said that its search engine of prices passed customers on to the airlines' websites themselves and did not book tickets on behalf of customers, meaning that tickets should still be valid.

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OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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