“We have asked Lufthansa to provide us with information on how they have been setting prices,” said Andreas Mundt, head of the cartel office. “We will study the data and then decide whether to start an official investigation.”
Ever since Air Berlin stopped flying at the end of October, there has been a lack of tens of thousands of seats on domestic flights each day. As a result, ticket prices have risen sharply, with industry experts claiming prices have risen by up to 30 percent on average on some routes.
“The bankruptcy of Air Berlin has damaged competition and has led to a shortage in offers, particularly on domestic routes,” said Mundt. “We have received complaints that there have been considerable price increases to the disadvantage of the customer.”
Lufthansa confirmed the probe on Friday.
“We are cooperating with the cartel office and providing them with all the information they request,” a Lufthansa spokesperson said.
But the company flatly denied any wrongdoing.
“In no way have we tried to profit from this situation,” the company spokesperson said.
The company pointed to the fact that it has a fully automated booking system, with 26 different price categories. The prices change depending on when a flight is booked and how much demand there is for the particular flight.
Lufthansa also pointed out that it is waiting for a green light from Brussels on plans to offer an additional 1,000 domestic flights per month. Germany's largest airliner claims that prices will be stabilized when this gains approval.
It could take some time before EU authorities have ruled upon Lufthansa's plans to buy up large parts of the Air Berlin fleets, as they look into possible breaches of competition rules.
With around 80 Air Berlin planes currently sitting unused in hangars, the current increase in prices could last well into 2018.