The search results page of the website www.britishairways.com, that appeared after a search for a return trip from London to Sri Lanka, displayed outbound flight options under the headings "Outbound direct flights" and "Outbound connecting flight options".
Two complainants challenged whether the claim "Outbound direct flights" was misleading, because after booking the flight listed under that heading it became apparent that there was a stop in the journey. One complainant understood that passengers were required to disembark the aircraft at that location.
British Airways plc said the web page distinguished between "direct" and "connecting" flights. They stated that in aviation terminology a "connecting" flight was one that involved a change of aircraft, flight number and, sometimes, carrier; a "direct" flight might involve a stop, but would not require passengers to change aircraft. British Airways considered that the flight times and duration were clearly displayed on the web page and said because of that, and because there was no change of aircraft during the journey, they did not consider the claim "Outbound direct flights" misleading. They also noted that information about the stop was included in a box that was displayed when consumers clicked on the flight number.
The ASA understood that the term "direct" was commonly used within the airline industry to refer to a flight which may or may not include en-route stops, whereas a "non-stop" flight was one which did not contain any intermediate landings. We noted that those definitions were reflected in a glossary of terms produced by the International Air Transport Association. We understood that in some cases local immigration rules in the country in which the stop was made required travellers to disembark the aircraft.
We considered that the existence and number of en-route stops during a flight would impact upon travel time, convenience and, in some cases, comfort, and that it was therefore likely to be a significant factor influencing a consumer's response to a marketing claim. We considered that, where a flight was described as "direct" but included intermediate landings, that claim should be accompanied by clear and prominent information as to the number and location of en-route stops. Further information should be given where it was the case that passengers would be required to disembark the aircraft.
We acknowledged BA's view that information about the flight times and duration was clearly displayed on the web page. However, the duration was not stated and was not readily apparent because flight departure and arrival times were commonly presented according to the local time zones. Further, knowledge of the flight duration would not itself make consumers aware of the existence of any en-route stops. Although we noted that consumers clicking on the flight number were presented with a pop-up box that included the text "Number of stops: 1", we considered that this information was insufficiently prominent in respect of the claim "Outbound direct flights" and the accompanying flight from London to Sri Lanka, and did not in any case include enough detail about the stop.
In the absence of clear and prominent information about the en-route stop, we considered that the use of the claim "Outbound direct flights" to describe a flight from London to Sri Lanka that included an intermediate landing point was likely to mislead consumers and was in breach of the Code.
The claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification).
The claim must not appear again in its current form. We told British Airways plc to ensure that the term "direct", when used in reference to flights that included en-route stops, was accompanied by clear and prominent information about the number and location of those stops and, where relevant, the fact that travellers would be required to disembark the aircraft.