Italy investigates Ryanair, Wizz Air and easyJet over Sicily flight prices

Italy's antitrust regulator said it had opened an inquiry into alleged price-fixing on flights to and from Sicily by airlines including Ryanair, Wizz Air and easyJet.

Ryanair and EasyJet planes
No-frills airlines Ryanair and EasyJet are among the largest providers on budget flights in Germany. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

Italy’s antitrust authority (Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato – AGCM) was investigating claims that airlines had deliberately raised fares on routes linking mainland Italy with Sicily during the Christmas holidays, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

The investigation followed a complaint by consumer group Codacons, which alleged “a specific collusive will” of airlines to raise prices for domestic Italian flights to and from Sicily, the regulator said.

The complaint also involved ITA Airways, the state-owned successor of former flag carrier Alitalia.

Codacons said any deliberate price distortions “would be particularly serious in the context of the current crisis, of difficulties for consumers and households’ declining spending power,” newspaper l’Eco del Sud reported.

Passengers travelling on domestic flights to Sicily over Christmas faced the steepest ticket prices in Italy, Codacons alleged, saying single economy fares from Bologna or Turin to Palermo were at least 300 euros. The same ticket would be around 400 euros from Milan, and up to 500 euros for the one-hour flight from Rome.

Assoutenti, another consumer rights group, found in a separate survey in mid-December that a one-way ticket from Rome to Palermo cost up to 511 euros on December 20th – more than Rome-New York JFK, which cost 459 euros on the same date.

In a statement to Reuters, easyJet denied any wrongdoing.

“easyJet strongly refutes these claims, adheres to relevant laws and regulations and will fully cooperate with the authorities to demonstrate it has always acted lawfully and competitively in the best interests of consumers,” it said.

The other airlines had not responded to requests for comment, Reuters said.

The cost of domestic flights is particularly sensitive in Sicily, as many people from the island move to mainland Italy to work or study and typically return to spend Christmas with family and friends.

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Why are flight prices higher in Italy than the rest of Europe this summer?

A recent analysis found that fares for flights between European countries have decreased on average this summer - but mysteriously, Italy is bucking the trend.

Why are flight prices higher in Italy than the rest of Europe this summer?

Italy may be at the start of a summer tourism boom, but that’s no thanks to the cost of its airline tickets, which are higher than ever this year.

According to a recent analysis in Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, intra-Europe fares from June to September 2024 are down three percent on average compared to the same period last year – but Italy’s flight costs have risen.

The average price of a summer flight between Italy and the rest of Europe has increased by seven percent since 2023, data shows, while domestic flights cost as much as 21 percent more.

Corriere doesn’t offer much of an explanation for the hikes, though says industry sources say it could be down to demand being higher than anticipated.

READ ALSO: How Europe’s new EES border checks will impact flight passengers

It’s true that supply chain issues have reduced the available fleet of global aircraft at a time when the appetite for international travel is as high as ever – but this is an industry-wide problem that shouldn’t disproportionately affect Italy.

Carmelo Calì, the vice president of consumer rights watchdog Confconsumatori, suggested in a recent interview that the main culprit is a lack of healthy competition in the Italian market.

“Despite what is said to the contrary, in our country companies often find themselves operating at airports practically alone,” Calì told consumer publication Il Salvagente (The Lifejacket).

“Even when there is competition, prices remain high, because the race is upwards and not downwards.”

The high price of Italy’s domestic flights have been a point of contention for years, with consumer unions long complaining that fares for tickets between mainland Italy and the major islands are exorbitant.

Italy’s Price Surveillance Guarantor Benedetto Mineo, who officially goes by Mister Prezzi (‘Mr. Prices’), last summer called on the seven main airlines operating in Italy to account for a 40 percent annual increase in the cost of some key domestic routes.

READ ALSO: Why two Swiss to Italy flight routes are ‘the most turbulent’ in Europe

This was followed by the government announcing a price cap on flights connecting Sardinia and Sicily to the Italian mainland – that it promptly shelved just one month later, after budget carrier Ryanair led a furious pushback by low cost airlines.

“Here companies believe they have freedom that they don’t have elsewhere, convinced they can get away with it, while in the rest of Europe they fear being punished,” said Calì.

That may explain why the EU’s competition watchdog has been so slow to approve a proposed partial takeover of Italy’s national flag carrier ITA by Germany airline Lufthansa.

The Commission has repeatedly insisted that Lufthansa must give away a certain number of its slots at Milan’s Linate airport in compliance with EU competition rules in order for the deal to go ahead.