Wednesday, October 28, 2009

BAA Price Advertising Misled Passengers, Says ASA

The Advertising Standards Authority has highlighted how airport operator BAA has misled vast numbers of passengers regarding its promotional material, which favourably compares the prices of items in its airport terminal bars and shops to those found on the high street. These leaflets have now been withdrawn after the regulatory body discovered that these prices were, in fact, significantly higher than advertised. Passengers using the airports operated by BAA - including London Heathrow, Stansted and Edinburgh - were, the watchdog added, actually paying closer to West End prices.

To take one example, a 40 per cent increase was noted between the price of a glass of wine within the same establishment, depending on whether it was situated in Heathrow or Gatwick, or in regional cities and towns. Nearly 50 per cent of BAA's revenue comes from the retail sector, leading to frequent and, at the moment, highly topical criticism from sources far and wide, who highlight the airport group's over-emphasis on gaining income from commercial enterprise, and its lack of investment in, and development of, facilities.

At London Stansted Airport, one leaflet previously available emphasised, falsely, that: "The price of all food and drink sold in BAA airports is matched with the UK high street, so you won't pay a penny more than you're used to". Another stated, on a similar theme: "Don't forget, our caterers are committed to matching the price of all the food and drink they sell within their airport stores against their high street equivalents."

In discussions with the Advertising Standards Authority, BAA detailed how the terms of its airport-based retailers specified that prices must mirror those found on the high street. Furthermore, it alleged that a comparison had been drawn between its airports and the closest-located high street. When, in this process, it was discovered that the shop in question was not represented on the high street, a comparison was instead made involving the outlet located closest-by.

Additionally, the airport operating group affirmed that random price checks were levied on all the providers within its airport network. However, during its investigation, the ASA isolated two retailers - J D Wetherspoon and WH Smith - as charging prices found nowhere else except in the centre of London.

The ASA, in its ultimate ruling, stated that "We considered that customers would see the claims 'matched with the UK high street, so you won't pay a penny more than you're used to' and 'committed to matching . . . their high street equivalents' as a reference to prices on their local high street or high streets near to the airports. We concluded the claims were misleading."

A spokesman from BAA conceded, in respect of the leaflets, that "confusion may have been caused". Confirming that those leaflets pulled up in the probe had now been removed, additionally that the firm would act to provide customers with more transparency in the future, he added that it was "too early to say" if any reduction in prices might be forthcoming.

Source - Airport International's London Reporter

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