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Malawian Airlines accused of ‘cheating’

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Consumer activist John Kapito has asked the Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC) to investigate Malawian Airlines for putting up misleading advertising of reduced airfares for the domestic route between Lilongwe and Blantyre.

The airline recently announced that it had made significant fare reductions on all its services with a major change on the route between Lilongwe and Blantyre where passengers were told that they could buy a return ticket from as low as K35,000.

Malawian Airlines Commercial Director, Eskinder Alemu, confirmed the fare cut, saying it followed the reduced operational costs the airline was enjoying after it suspended the second daily flight between the Blantyre and Lilongwe to settle for one daily flight between the two cities.

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But, barely three weeks after announcing the price reduction, Malawian Airlines put up adverts in the local print media pegging the same trip at K66,000 and when we tried to follow up the rate cut with some travel consultants, they told us that there was a lot of confusion over pricing of the domestic route as it seemed only the first five customers to pay were being offered the discounted price while others were being asked to pay K40,000 and yet others the full rate of K66,000.

The agents said this was causing conflict between the travel agents and customers with customers accusing the agents of daylight robbery.

Reacting to the reports, Kapito said he had also done his investigations where he discovered that the airline was not offering the service as it had put up in its advertising and interviews with the media, therefore, necessitating intervention from the CFTC.

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Said Kapito: “They wanted to create a false impression on competition when, in actual sense, they were not offering the service. CFTC should investigate them because they created demand which they are not able to fulfill,” he said.

In her response, CFTC Executive Director Wezi Malonda said misleading or deceptive advertising constitutes a violation of the CFTC Act and the Consumer Protection Act and, therefore, the Commission will institute investigations to determine whether the conduct by Malawian Airlines constitutes a violation of the CFTC Act and the Consumer Protection Act.

She said any advertiser, who puts up an advertisement that constitutes a false or misleading offer or promotion, commits an offence and maybe found guilty of fraud.

“The Competition and Fair Trading Commission has noted allegations that some Airlines operating certain domestic and regional routes are engaged in misleading advertising. The allegations will be investigated and we wish to advise all commercial enterprises, including Airlines to desist from engaging in any form of misleading or deceptive conducts as they violate economic rights of consumers.

She said misleading adverts include any type of business information or communication which can directly or indirectly, expressly or by omission, lead a consumer to mistake, misunderstand or confuse the price of the offered goods or services.

But, Malawian Airlines Commercial Director insists that the K17, 000 fare for a round trip between Lilongwe and Blantyre is still valid and open to the public.

He said if passengers book and pay in advance, they will get that cheapest fare and that if the aircraft is full or the seats are occupied by transit passengers, the possibility of getting the cheapest fare is slim.

“This must have confused people that we have increased the fare. Otherwise, we still offer the fare we recently introduced and we will continue to use it,” he said.

Malawian Airlines is Malawi’s new flag carrier established in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines which has a 49 percent shareholding while Malawi Government holds 51.

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