Ryanair giveth and Michael O’Leary taketh away. A little over four years since the Irish airline allowed passengers to carry a second bag on board, passengers were on Monday getting to grips with new rules that meant they either had to pay £5 or put their wheelie suitcase in the hold.
The airline insisted that the move was fair and would reduce delays, with the caveat that a maximum 100 passengers per flight paying for priority boarding will be allowed to take their cases into the cabin. But consumer groups warned that passengers could risk being uninsured for losses, while some sceptical passengers wondered if this was just another money-making ruse from Ryanair.
Travellers who do not cough up will have their small wheelie suitcases tagged with a yellow label and removed at the gate, facing a wait on arrival at the carousel to reclaim bags. The permitted cabin bag must now be small enough to fit under the seat in front.
Defending the changes, Ryanair said that not all hand baggage could now fit in overhead lockers due to fuller planes, and many passengers were already being stopped at the gate to be asked to put their cases in the hold. While the airline had famously charged high baggage fees to reduce handling costs and fuel, it has now cut the price of checking in luggage on departure to £25 from £35 and also increased the weight allowance to 20kg.
Passengers at Stansted airport, Ryanair’s largest UK base, were broadly unfazed by the move on Monday, with a few exceptions – although many at check-in appeared to have missed the warning memo from Ryanair.
Glynis Griffiths, a semi-retired teacher living in Gaillac, France, was returning home via Toulouse with her husband, Adrian, and not looking forward to placing her wheelie case in the hold. She said: “It’s free now, but you know Ryanair – in six weeks you’re bound to pay more. We always travel light and carry on our bags – if my case ever goes missing it’s very hard to find clothes in my size.”
But many arriving passengers said the new policy appeared effective. Kirsty Murray, 23, a student from Glasgow, had arrived from Bremen. “I found it speedier to be honest and calmer onboard – less people faffing with their bags. But there were some unhappy people in Bremen, who didn’t want to leave their cases at the bottom of the plane steps.”
One traveller had felt the pinch of Ryanair’s new bag crackdown. Paige Morawiec, 20, a student, had to stump up €40 (£36) in Bremen at departures to put her case in the hold at check-in because her luggage could not fit in the bagagge sizer. “It was so close, I probably could have squeezed it in if I’d really squashed it.”
Others had somehow evaded Ryanair’s bag police. Peter Burns, 37, a sculptor travelling from Knock in Ireland, had carried on a travelling bag and a large carrier containing a fragile sculpture. He said: “I guess I’m just lucky. I saw them putting yellow labels on bags, but no one seemed to ask so I just chanced my arm.”
One Ryanair crew member expressed relief. “It was much better on board, and we pushed off five minutes earlier. Especially coming from Athens where people take three bags on board.”
Customers at other airports expressed frustration that not all staff seemed to be enforcing the new policy, with one blaming “a shambles with cabin bags” for flight delays in Spain.
The consumer group Which? warned passengers that they might not be insured for loss, theft or damage of valuables if their luggage ended up in the hold. Travel editor Rory Boland said: “We would advise travellers to remove wallets, keys, laptops and other important or expensive items from any bag the airline plans to put in the hold. If anything does go missing, you should claim against the airline as they should honour your rights under the Montreal Convention.”
Ryanair said all customers had been emailed and informed of the change, and boarding passes redesigned to show whether a customer would be allowed to bring on their wheelie or not. Passengers can buy priority boarding up to 30 minutes before a flight departs. Kenny Jacobs, marketing manager, said the new policy was fair, would speed up boarding and eliminate the risk of delays from too many bags being brought on board.
Follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk, or sign up to the daily Business Today email here.