Ryanair is blaming Google for sending customers to scam travel sites

Michael O’Leary in battle.
Michael O’Leary in battle.
Image: AP Photo/Thierry Charlier/dapd
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European airline Ryanair is blasting Google for sending customers to scam travel websites, dubbed “screen-scrapers,” that pull flight details from airline websites, undercut prices to hook customers, and then charge exorbitant booking fees.

In a press release on Tuesday, Ryanair called on Google to pull ads from companies that pay to out-rank airlines on Google searches with web addresses that look as though they’re connected to the airlines. Travel site eDreams, for example, uses the subdomain www.ryanair.edreams.com, among others, to fool customers into booking through the site and overpaying for flights, Ryanair claims.

The low-cost airline—the world’s largest by passengers carried—has been battling sites like this for years, using CAPTCHA and other technology to prevent “screen-scraping” to no avail, and suing the travel agencies involved. Other airlines, such as EasyJet, have also challenged the travel sites for misleading consumers.

The airlines snagged a win earlier this year when the Court of Hamburg ordered eDreams to stop using the subdomain ryanair.edreams.de and advertising the term on Google searches.

However, the subdomain can still be used and advertised on Google with other domains, like .net and .com.

So Ryanair is taking the fight to Google for enabling these misleading advertising practices. The company says it was prompted by “numerous complaints” it received from customers who mistakenly bought Ryanair flights through eDreams after clicking on Google’s search ads, according to Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, in a press release.

“While we have no issue with Google advertising in general, it is unfair that it is used as a mechanism to mislead customers,” said Jacobs, adding that the problem is particularly pervasive in Ireland and the UK. “Ryanair will continue to pursue screen-scraper websites such as eDreams to prevent Europe’s consumers from being misled over price and booking conditions.”

The Irish airline has not yet filed an official complaint against Google with UK’s Advertising Standards Authority, Business Insider reported.

Ryanair and Google did not immediately reply to Quartz’s request for comment.