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Video - United Airlines : the false good news

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The ticket prices were just too low to be true. On 11th February, thousands of travellers bought United Airlines Business Class tickets at bargain basement prices. An example was 65 euros ($74)  for a London - New York round trip, instead of 3,700 euros ($4,150) ; a price 55 times cheaper than the normal. It could only have been a mistake.

In fact, although rapidly corrected, it was due to a computer problem. On their Danish website, one of the company's software suppliers had in fact mistaken the exchange rate.

Finally, the American company has decided not to honour the tickets issued.

A United Airlines press release stated: "United promptly voided transactions affected by this exchange rate error. (…) The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has informed United that it does not intend to pursue enforcement action in this matter."

But does a company have the right to cancel a sale due to an error on their part ? In fact it depends on the laws of each country. In Europe for example, since 1986 (and the ruling in the "Nouvelles Frontières case", a French travel agency), there is no specific regulation on airfare tarrifs, in which case, common law applies. However, although a vendor cannot normally cancel or annul a contract due to a pricing error, there is nevertheless an exception.

Frédéric Selnet, Attorney specializing in aviation law - Selnet Fischer

"In cases of obvious error, especially if, at the time of purchase, the consumers could not ignore the fact that there was clearly a mistake, courts generally pronounce the nullity of the contract, and judge in favour of the company or professional person who was mistaken."

Therefore, becoming a case-by-case assessment. Unhappy with the turn of events, dozens of United Airlines customers are considering taking the company to court. In lieu of recuperating their low, low, low-cost tickets, perhaps, in settlement, they will obtain some form of goodwill gesture from the airline.

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