Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Airlines may offer multiple additional extras to consumers, based on the seat the consumer purchases, and often advertisers may wish to make a comparison between certain features provided by them, and their competitors.
Beds, seats, legroom, in-flight meals and other luxury extras are all additional features offered by some airlines, and any objective description of these in an ad must not be likely to mislead, and must be supported by evidence.
The ASA has investigated several advertisements by airlines that claimed to offer superior comfort, for example through increased legroom or more comfortable seats. Even though they often touch upon aspects open to subjective interpretation, such as comfort or quality, claims of this nature will often be considered to be objective and requiring substantiation.
Marketers should be able to support general claims that flights are of a particular class, for example by stating, “economy”, “premium economy”, “business class” and “first class”. They should not use general claims of superior quality if they can be confused with a type of airline “class”, as this will be considered misleading.
Beds and seats
Bed (or seat) quality has been the subject of several investigations by the ASA. It has judged that the term “flat bed” may be used to describe a seat that extends fully but is not horizontal (Silverjet Aviation Ltd, 19 September 2007). Depictions in ads which are clearly fantastical, and which are unlikely to be taken literally by consumers are likely to be acceptable. The ASA has considered that a figurative image of a man sleeping in a double bed in an ad promoting British Airways’ Business Class beds (British Airways plc, 24 March 2004) was acceptable because consumers were unlikely to infer equivalent size.
Ads must accurately represent the service they provide and its availability. One airline was found to have implied its flat bed was available on flights from the UK. The ad showed a business class seat reclined into a flat position and stated “Skybed available in Business on direct services from UK. The ASA considered that the ad implied that the fully flat Skybeds were already available on flights from the UK, but this was not the case and so the ASA concluded that the ad was misleading (Qantas Airways Ltd, 19 November 2008). In short, marketers should not exaggerate the availability of the goods or services that they offer. For example, they should not imply a service is available in all situations or to/from all destinations if it is not (STA Travel Ltd, 11 February 2009).
As with all comparative claims, when comparing aircraft features, marketers should ensure that they compare products or services that are intended for the same purpose, and hold suitable comparative data. Jet Airways’ claim to have “best flat beds” in Premiere class was challenged in 2005 by Virgin Atlantic. Although Jet Airways was able to show that they were better than Virgin’s Upper Class Suite beds, its beds were not considered as good as British Airways’ First Class seats by a specialist research firm and the ASA considered the claim was misleading (Jet Airways, 2 November 2005).
When making claims about legroom, marketers should be clear about what they are measuring. In particular, they should not confuse legroom with seat pitch. CAP and the ASA understand that the latter is an agreed industry measurement on aircraft, extending from one point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front. The ASA has concluded that the term is unlikely to be known or understood by the average consumer; but that does not give marketers the freedom to replace the term with “legroom”, because, without qualification, that term is likely to be understood by consumers only as the space for their legs (TUI UK Ltd, 28 May 2008 and Virgin Holidays Ltd, 15 June 2006). A qualified statement such as “35” seat pitch for more legroom” is likely to be acceptable (First Choice Holidays plc, 3 January 2007).
Marketers should not describe bulkhead seats as having greater legroom, because, unlike ordinary seats, they do not allow passengers to stretch out their legs under the seat in front (TUI KU Ltd, 4 June 2008).
When making claims about in-flight meals, marketers should describe them accurately, and should not make any claims which are likely to be considered misleading. For example, an ad should not imply that passengers will have a choice from a menu, if that is not the case.
One consumer challenged a claim regarding a Premium Economy flight which stated, “Choose from a dedicated menu and your meal will be served on china dinnerware with accompanying stainless steel cutlery" because he was served a cheese and egg roll in foil during the flight. The ASA did not uphold the complaint because the roll was a snack and did not form part of the dedicated menu which was served on china dinnerware as described in the ad (Virgin Holidays Ltd, 10 August 2011).
Marketers should not imply that luxury features are available on all flights if they are limited to a few aircraft or classes on specific journeys. Qualifications stating any relevant exclusions should be prominent and clear (Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, 16 June 2004 and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, 19 March 2008).