A new European Union proposal bans airlines from advertising airfares that hide fuel surcharges, baggage fees and other airline add-ons. Airlines are also prevented from charging passengers different rates in different countries.

The Internet has been credited with driving down airline fares by giving consumers the ability to compare prices easily. Some airlines are fighting back by making their fares less transparent to the public. A similar battle is being waged by major US airlines, according to an article published earlier this year in the New York Times.

US Travel consultancy PhoCusWright estimated that online travel sales in Europe totaled about $35.5 billion last year. Airline tickets accounted for the vast majority of these sales. According to the Denmark-based Centre for Regional and Tourism Research, airline ticket sales represented 56% of European online travel sales in 2005, with sales of hotels rooms and holiday packages running a distant second, both garnering 16% of total sales.

The emergence of low cost airlines has also helped reduce overall airline fares. However, budget airfares aqre harder to spot if the traditional carriers get their way and the ban is not enacted. No frills airlines have caught on in Europe as wellas the US. There are over 60 short-haul, low-cost carriers serving Europe, including pioneers Ryanair and EasyJet as well as more recent upstarts such as Hungary’s Wizz Air and Slovakia’s SkyEurope. In the UK travelers can choose from an exceptionally large selection of low cost domestic and foreign carriers. One consequence of this has been that it is now more affordable for UK residents to buy vacation homes in previously out-of-the-way places on continental Europe and this. Such purchases are on a steep upward trend.

According to a 2005 ACNielsen survey, Ireland, home of Ryanair, Europe’s largest low cost airline, has the highest percentage of Internet users who booked air travel as one of their last three online purchases. Other countries with a high percentage of online airline ticket buyers include Malaysia, India and Greece. It should be noted, however, that, to some extent, a country’s presence on this list indicates a lack of other products available for online purchase, thereby increasing the likelihood that airline tickets will be among an online consumer’s last three purchases.