Why summer holidays can take a heavy toll

Airline baggage check-in fees have shot up by as much as 3,000 per cent since they were introduced in 2006, so how can you avoid them?

Mon, Jun 24, 2013, 01:00

Former Westlife singer Brian McFadden had a bit of a hissy fit at a Ryanair check-in desk in Liverpool this month after he arrived at the airport with no boarding pass and 4kg of excess baggage and was asked for an additional £150 before being allowed board the plane.

He pleaded his case with airline staff but, surprisingly (ha!), he got nowhere. Eventually he decided he’d be better off flying without wings and took a train to London where he found a different airline to take him to Spain for his golfing jolly.

He also took to Twitter to say all manner of less jolly things about the airline and its chief executive Michael O’Leary who he claimed was a “scumbag who exploits hard working people and tricks them out of their money” with “ridiculous loopholes”.

Pricewatch is not O’Leary’s number one fan by any measure but even we can see that McFadden’s response was a lot more ridiculous than Ryanair’s “loopholes”. For all its faults – and it has a great many – Ryanair is pretty straight about its rules and you can expect to be hit hard when you break them. It takes a particularly hard line on baggage charges and loses a lot of friends – if not fliers – as a result of its rigid policing of what’s in your bags.

While it might feel like they have been with us for ever, airlines charging us for our checked-in bags are a relatively recent development. And Ryanair is mostly to blame. While it was not the first European airline to introduce baggage charges – Flybe beat it to the punch – it did make all the running once it got off the ground in March 2006. That was the month the airline brought in the charges for the first time. They hit people with what seemed then an outrageous €3.50 per bag checked in and, naturally enough, other airlines quickly followed suit.

There was outrage from consumers at the time but anger at a €3.50 fee seems wildly misplaced, particularly when you realise that the “ultra low cost carrier”, as it has taken to calling itself, has increased the cost of check-in bags by as much as 3,000 per cent in the intervening period.

Today the charges are savage. The cost of checking in just one bag weighing just 15kg – which is, roughly, three pairs of jeans, three jumpers, a pair of runners, six T-shirts, underwear, how much depends on its size, a make-up bag, a toiletries bag, a belt and a hairdryer – with Ryanair in low season is €15, each way.

And that is if you do it during the initial booking phase. If you wait and do it after you have booked via the “manage my booking” option you will have to pay €20 (quite why you are hit with a 33.3 per cent increase for changing your booking through an automated process is anyone’s guess). If you are foolish enough to wait until you get to the airport you will be hit with a €60 charge – or €120 for a return. And that is at low season. During the summer the charges rise to €25, €30 and €100 respectively. The airline will also charge you €20 for each additional kilo you are above your allowance.

Aer Lingus is better but that does not make it cheap. It charges €20 during the summer months from the beginning of June until the end of September and €15 at other times and will charge €9 per kilo if you go over your allowance.

And make no mistake, baggage charges are hitting people hard. A study by lastminute.com published this month found that a total of €17.5 million in excess baggage fees was paid out by Irish fliers over the last 12 months with the average charge being €46 per person.

Although baggage charges are costing us €1.5 million a month, most of us are oblivious. According to the lastminute.com survey, 55 per cent of those polled did not know that both Ryanair and Aer Lingus increase their baggage charges for the peak summer period from June to September and only 12 per knew what the increase was.

Not surprisingly, the poll also found that families with children are caught out by excess fees more than people travelling alone, not least because airlines have a ridiculous practice of not allowing families calculate their baggage allowances as a combined weight.

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