Having booked a flight ticket to some sunny destination most passengers feel that the transaction of searching, choosing and purchasing a ticket has been completed. All they need to do now is pack their flip flops and make sure that they turn up at the airport on time. Very few passengers would view their ticket purchase as ‘entering into a legal contract’ with the airline yet this is exactly what they have done, in a round-about sort of way.
And there lies the problem. When something so incredulous as a volcano spewing out ash dust, or a riot in Tunisia or a hurricane in the Caribbean means that your flight is well and truly not going anywhere soon and you find yourself queuing on the phone to the airline, trying to find out exactly what they plan to do about it.
Now given an airline is in control of many things there are certain instances when they have the upper hand, so to speak, and in that very hand they are waving their ‘get out of jail’ card in your face, quoting “force majeure”.
In the event that the passenger decides to both find the small print that accompanied their booking and is brave enough to actually sit down and read it, if they haven’t got bored after the first few clauses and actually make it towards the end, they will stumble across the force majeure clause and find a long and comprehensive (for the airline that is) list of reasons when the airline will be relieved of their obligations under that contract. This will probably cover ‘acts of God’ (such as fire, earthquake, hurricane, flooding or other natural disaster), riots, war, rebellions, revolution, insurrection, invasion, strike, embargo, labour dispute etc. and the list goes on.
So why aren’t people aware of this before complaining and demanding compensation? Under EU regulations
a passenger is entitled to compensation and assistance although in the case of force majeure
, an airline will be relieved of having to pay compensation. However they are obliged to assist any passenger caught up in an event regardless of whether the circumstances are extraordinary or not. Given that 1 in 4 internet purchases are for airline tickets
surely no one would be daft enough to accept e-commerce terms and conditions without reading them first and knowing where they stand...
As an April Fool’s Day joke, the retailer GameStation
added a clause to their terms and conditions on their website, granting the company the right to ‘claim the soul’ of their online customers, going as far as to say that any such notice to invoke this right would be served in ‘6 foot high letters of fire’.
Based on the number of those who read the terms and conditions, and checked the box to opt out, GameStation states that almost 90% of their customers did not read the small print (or presumably were just happy to sell their soul).
, a Computer optimisation software maker tried a similar experiment offering a $1000 reward, although details of this reward and how to claim it were, of course, hidden in their terms and conditions. They had 3000 downloads of the software and it was only after 4 months that someone emailed claiming their reward.
Although these are just 2 small scale examples of the ease with which people are happy to accept the small print, it is fair to say that they are most probably indicative of the size of the problem of ‘clicking without reading
’ whereby internet users agree to contract terms without ever reading them. There are many reasons for this, ‘bounded rationality’ being one of them, whereby people believe that unfavourable and unreasonable terms will not exist or in the event that they do, the law will be on their side and the terms will be unenforceable.
So, whilst most terms and conditions found on internet sites are only capable of being either accepted in their entirety or wholly rejected, leaving the customer with no room to re-negotiate any parts of ‘the contract’ in the event that they wish to go ahead with their purchase, and bearing in mind that extraordinary events do happen from time to time which no-one could have predicted or prevented, shouldn’t more people start reading the small print before clicking the ‘I Agree’ box? You might just save yourself a whole lot of time being held in a queue on the phone and you never know, there might be a reward for your diligence and perseverance.
Author: Rachel Andrews