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Consumer Council takes aim at budget flights, electric water heaters

Booking with bargain airlines can leave you paying more in the end, and some electric water heaters pose a hazard, council says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2013, 4:15am

Travellers seeking cheap fares by flying with budget airlines should read the small print and consider the financial risks involved, the Consumer Council has warned.

The council also found safety problems in seven of 10 electric water heaters it tested, including ones by big-name brands Fortress and Zanussi. The problems were minor and not serious enough to warrant a recall, it said.

The consumer watchdog received 167 complaints last year about budget airlines, on issues ranging from double charging to last minute flight cancellations. The figure was almost three times that of 2011, as more people were now using low-cost carriers, said council vice-chairman Ambrose Ho Pui-him yesterday.

"In purchasing tickets from budget airlines, usually the prices are attractive, but it may involve extra expenses and that has to be considered too," Ho said.

One visitor from Shanghai to Hong Kong endured nine-hour delays on both legs of their journey last summer, after paying HK$3,200 for a return ticket with a Hong Kong budget airline. The airline said the delays were due to operational reasons - i.e. not related to the weather - and gave him a HK$1,000 voucher.

Budget airlines usually arranged for passengers to take their next available flight in the event of delays or cancellations, and would not transfer them to other airlines, differing from the standard policy of major full- service carriers, Ho said.

Consumers wanting to use low-cost airlines should have flexible travel plans and buy insurance to cover possible extra expenses, such as for hotels, incurred during delays, he said.

In another case covered in the council's Choice magazine, a woman paid HK$1,319 online for return tickets from Hong Kong to Manila in 2011 with a budget airline. But she was charged double after the internet transaction was completed. The company offered a refund and apology.

Last year, 20,300 budget airline flights used Hong Kong International Airport, carrying 3.3 million passengers.

Other payments that have caught consumers out are the extra charges in wedding photography packages when shooting outside Hong Kong. After assessing the policies of 26 service providers, the council found some of them imposed charges if the photo session exceeded the standard period. The hourly overtime rate ranged from HK$300 to HK$2,000.

A woman bought a HK$17,589 package to take her wedding pictures in Yunnan . Staff had told her that photo touch-up services were included, but she found out after the shooting that there was an extra HK$3,800 fee to touch up the photos.

She also said a photo frame was chipped and there were air bubbles in two of the albums. The firm has not resolved the issues and she is considering seeking compensation legally.

The council urged people to make sure all conditions and promises were in writing.

After testing the 10 electric water heaters with the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, the council found that under normal circumstances the units were "largely safe" although some may pose risk of electrical shock if there was water leakage.

One did not meet protection requirements against electrical shocks; three did not have drain holes or had ones that were too small; and five were not properly grounded. Some models had several of these shortcomings.

Both Fortress and Zanussi said they had ceased making the faulty models and would make changes to their new ones.




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