Passengers of Europe’s largest low-cost carrier were furious to find they could not download boarding passes without paying for a seat.
Travellers trying to check in for Ryanair flights in the past week claim they were no longer able to download digital boarding passes free. Passengers using the Ryanair app or asking for boarding passes via email found they had to first pay $14 to $42 to select a seat.
A free alternative was available that involved queueing to print a paper boarding pass at the airport.
Airport staff in London told The Mail on Sunday they had witnessed the fallout from irate passengers arriving to travel.
One traveller slammed the change as “revolting”.
Marcello Maggio wrote to the social media platform X, that he felt he was being squeezed by the airline for “optional” fees.
“Despite travelling with no bags, Ryanair is forcing me to collect my boarding pass at the airport even if I just checked in and my flight is just 13 hours away. Otherwise I have to pay for a seat!”
“How is this [not] illegal?” asked another traveller on December 1.
Staff at London’s Stansted Airport said they had noticed the change during the past couple of days. Passengers queuing to print out tickets said they were told the new policy applied to only the last 20 passengers checking in at the airport, for allocation.
A Ryanair spokesperson told the BBC seat reservation was not mandatory and it had provided an option for a randomly allocated seat, free of charge.
“All Ryanair passengers can pay for a reserved seat if they so wish or if passengers wish to avoid this seat fee, they can select a randomly allocated seat entirely free of charge,” the spokesperson said.
Furious passengers claim if this free seat allocation is not available online, they are effectively being charged for paper-free boarding passes.
Ryanair, which started operations in 1984, was one of the pioneers of the low-cost airline model. While the low upfront cost of airfares allowed the Irish airline to undercut the competition, it was also among the first to realise the benefit of charging “airline ancillary service fees” to reclaim its profit.
Charges for seat selection, catering and luggage weight allowance now make up a substantial revenue stream. In 2009, CEO Michael O’Leary pulled a PR stunt claiming it was considering charging customers to visit plane bathrooms.
Many other “budget airlines” have adopted this business model, however, all these fees can add up to big confusion and unexpected charges.
Last year, the US Department of Transport proposed rules for greater transparency of service fees.
The UK CAA has begun publishing airline fee comparison charts to help travellers navigate the true cost of their airline ticket, now additional charges could end up costing more than the initial price of a ticket.
Consumer rights expert Martyn James said the charge might be the result of a glitch in Ryaniar’s booking system.
He told the BBC he could not see it as an intentional or profitable move by the carrier.
“If this new charge is true, then it’s something of a false economy for Ryanair as they’ll need an awful lot more staff on the check-in desks to print off all of those boarding passes,” he said.
“Passengers should not have to pay for reserving a ‘standard’ seat at all.”