Dark pattern sales by airlines, online agents deemed ‘cybercrime’

current affairs - 2023-10-28

Dark pattern sales by airlines, online agents deemed ‘cybercrime’


Following complaints about practices by airlines and online travel agents that involve tricking customers into making unintended purchases — such as paying for seats — while booking flight tickets, which one government official referred to as “cybercrime,” the Ministry of Civil Aviation has asked low-cost carrier IndiGo to correct its website.

What is the dark pattern sales? 

  • Dark patterns are a series of misleading methods that trick customers into making decisions that may not be in their best interests. They may include the following: 
    • Notifications concerning a product’s scarcity, the urgency of the sale, or social attractiveness are triggered.
    • Users are duped into purchasing costly insurance or signing up for recurring fees.
  • Dark patterns might take advantage of cognitive biases and harm customers. They can be harmful commercially or in terms of personal data use. 
  • “Deceptive design patterns” are another name for dark patterns. They can include: 
    • a false sense of urgency, 
    • Basket shaming
    •  Confirm shaming
    •  Forcing action
    •  Subscription trap
    •  Interface interference
    •  Bait and switch Pricing in stages

Where has the recent incident of the Dark patterns been deployed?

  • Unintended Purchases: Complaints have been filed against airlines and online travel agencies for allegedly duping customers into making unintended purchases while booking flight tickets. According to one federal officer, this is a “cybercrime.”
  • Involvement of the Ministry of Civil Aviation: In response to these accusations, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has urged low-cost carrier IndiGo to correct its website, which has been accused of utilizing misleading techniques throughout the booking process.
  • The unfair practice found in Indigo website: IndiGo’s website is noted as an example of unfair practices. It employs a method known as “false urgency” to convince customers that they must pay an additional charge to guarantee a seat. Even when free seats are available, they are frequently hidden or made difficult to find. The “skip” option is present but not displayed.

How are these practices going to negatively affect the consumers?

  • Unexpected charges: Consumers may incur unexpected charges as a result of dark patterns and misleading activities. They may, for example, unintentionally acquire services such as seat selection, luggage, or insurance, resulting in higher overall ticket prices.
  • Lack of Transparency: During the booking process, these activities cause a lack of openness. Consumers may struggle to understand the full costs of their flight, making it harder for them to make informed judgments.
  • Reduced Trust: Such tactics have the potential to damage trust in the airline sector as well as online travel booking platforms. Consumers may become distrustful of the information supplied, making it less likely that they will trust the price and services provided.
  • Wastage of time: Consumers may lose time navigating confusing interfaces and resolving inadvertent purchases, which can be time-consuming and frustrating.
  • Financial Impact: These fraudulent methods can have a major cost impact on budget-conscious travellers. Extra fees and levies can quickly mount up, making flying travel more expensive than expected.

What are the ways to resolve these issues?

  • Oversight: Strengthen and enforce current consumer protection rules and regulations, ensuring that they apply to online travel firms and airlines.
  • Transparency and Disclosure: Require airlines and travel firms to give clear and transparent pricing, allowing consumers to easily comprehend the complete cost of their trip.
  • Consumer Education: Promote consumer education programs to educate passengers on their rights, such as the right to transparent pricing and the choice to decline additional services.
  • Standardized Terminology: Encourage the adoption of standardized nomenclature for optional services, which will allow consumers to compare offerings across different airlines and platforms more easily.
  • Opt-Out Procedures: Ensure that during the booking process, users have clear and simple opt-out alternatives for additional services. This includes the option to refuse services such as seat selection or travel insurance.


In summary, these behaviours have a detrimental impact on consumers by increasing expenses, causing uncertainty and annoyance, and reducing trust in the airline industry and online travel platforms. Correcting these flaws is critical to providing passengers with a fair and transparent booking experience.