Ryanair boarding pass fee 'unfair'

Sun, Jan 16, 2011, 00:00

A Spanish judge has found that Ryanair was wrong to impose "unfair" fees on passengers who failed to print out their own boarding cards.

In what could be a landmark legal ruling with implications on the airline’s charging policies across Europe, Judge Barbara Maria Cordoba of the Barcelona commercial court said yesterday it was carriers and not passengers who were obliged to issue boarding cards.

She made the decision in a case brought by a Spanish lawyer, Dan Miro, who objected to being charged €40 for failing to print his boarding card before a flight.

"The normal practice over the years has been that the obligation to issue the boarding card has always fallen on the carrier," she said. "I declare unfair and therefore void the contractual clause in which Ryanair obliges the passenger to be the one who brings the printed boarding pass to travel or face a penalty of €40".

Ryanair introduced the €40 penalty for reissuing a boarding card in May 2009 and said it was being done to encourage passengers to arrive at the airport with their card pre-printed.

A central plank of the company’s business model in recent years has involved a dramatic scaling back of the number of check-in desks it operates at airports.

Ryanair had argued at a court hearing in Barcelona before Christmas that as a low-cost airline it should be permitted to require its passengers to print their own boarding passes.

Judge Cordoba stressed that “there is no doubt at all” that airlines should print boarding passes for passengers, and dismissed the suggestion that because Ryanair described itself as a low-cost carrier it could “alter its basic contractual obligations”.

The Consumers Union of Spain (UCE) welcomed yesterday's announcement and described Ryanair's policy on boarding cards as "abusive." In a statement the group said "international air traffic laws, to which Ryanair is subject, oblige a transporter to provide the travel document".

Ryanair robustly dismissed criticism of the charge and said it would appeal the ruling. "The court is wrong," a spokesman for the airline said.

Daniel de Carvalho claimed that arriving at an airport without a boarding pass was similar to leaving a passport at home. "You need the boarding card to fly. If a passenger arrives without a boarding card, we find an ad hoc solution to their problem. The €40 is a penalty for doing that. We serve the boarding card in exactly the same way that the passenger makes the booking, by internet."

He said that if the Spanish court objected to the €40 charge the airline could “simply stop offering the service. That, of course, will mean the passenger who arrives without a boarding card cannot fly."

The ruling is unlikely to have any impact on Irish passengers travelling with the airline in the short term as it would have to be upheld by European courts before it could be enforced in Ireland.