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Pricewatch: Man claims he was unfairly denied boarding. Ryanair says otherwise

‘Cold and unsympathetic’ Ryanair staff dispute complaint and question passenger’s job

It is not every company that will carry out a mini background check on our readers before suggesting they are making multiple “false claims” about their experience and even their profession.

But then again, not every company is Ryanair.

Before we go any further we’d like to apologise for the length of the story we have to tell and we hope you’ll bear with us.

As you may already know, it tends to be our readers’ stories that stand out on this page while the responses we get from the companies involved are generally useful and helpful as well as being contrite, if sometimes a little bland.


On occasion, the claims made by our readers are disputed or – rarely – shown to be wrong.

But the story and response we have today is quite different on many levels.

Earlier this month, we alerted Ryanair to a complaint made by a reader called Carl. Not only the did airline robustly – angrily, some might say – reject all of the criticisms that were levelled at it by Carl, it even went as far as to trawl social media in an attempt to prove our reader was not, in fact, a frontline healthcare worker as he claimed in his mail.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

At the end of September Carl and his partner checked in for a Ryanair flight bound for Naples. They arrived at the airport over two hours ahead of the flight’s departure and dropped their bag at the drop-off area “with plenty of time to spare”, he says.

He tells us he and his partner were “at the gate long before boarding had commenced” but he “was denied boarding by a member of Ryanair’s staff”.

And why was that?

“In the minutes preceding this, my partner passed through the boarding gate and I was immediately behind. As I opened the Ryanair app to retrieve my boarding pass, it was no longer there and in the very few minutes it took me to retrieve the PDF boarding pass from my email the staff member closed the flight literally before my eyes.”

We in the health service have very modest salaries. A foreign holiday is a significant investment for us

He says both he and his partner “are frontline healthcare workers . . . literally on the floor treating people suffering and dying from Covid amongst many other illnesses . . . We have struggled to take time off [and] his trip was to be our relief after a very challenging time.”

He says that out of “respect for our patients, a family member who [has a serious medical condition] and other Ryanair passengers, we made every effort to make our travels as safe as possible, booking exit row seats and planning to board last”.

According to Carl, when boarding commenced “we were standing near the gate. The time between boarding beginning and final call was less than 15 minutes, however, when the final call was made we went straight to the gate. At this point there was still a queue of passengers stretching from the door of the aircraft, across the apron and up the stairs leading from the gate,” he writes.

His partner went through the boarding gate without difficulty but he had a problem finding his boarding pass which, he said, lasted “no more than two minutes”.

That two minutes was, he says, all it took for Ryanair to close the flight and remove him from it.

He tells us that “despite calmly discussing the situation with the gate staff”, they were unhelpful. He actually uses a stronger term but we will go with unhelpful.

"My partner was then given the choice to board the aircraft or also be removed. Again, calmly, I asked when the next flight to Naples – or anywhere in Italy – would be. The only answer was an abrupt "Look it up on the internet" from one staff member. Not comfortable for her to fly to a foreign city with no plan, my partner opted to remain in Dublin.

“After the past 18 months, she then broke down at the gate. Despite public opinion, we in the health service have very modest salaries. A foreign holiday is a significant investment for us – and to rebook at short notice after a missed flight, beyond our means,” he says.

The following day they went into an overdraft to book a one-way flight with Aer Lingus to get to their destination a day later than planned.

There is a hidden cost to flying Ryanair beyond bag fees and seat charges

“I have long been an admirer of the Ryanair model of efficiency and fully accept the strict timelines upon which their operation relies,” he says. “However, our return flight to Dublin departed a full hour behind schedule with boarding passes still being checked at the gate long after the scheduled departure time. In this light, not affording a passenger one to two minutes to access their boarding pass while passengers still queue outside the aircraft is not a model any business – or decent person – can stand by.

“Our bags had to be removed from the aircraft, ultimately causing some element of delay, and the staff’s actions directly put €300 in the pockets of their main Dublin rival. As mentioned, an extra €300 does not come easily to us, but in the hours that followed these events we decided an overdraft was our best option to ensure we got the reprieve from the past 18 months we had planned.”

He adds by way of a “final note I will say I have some acceptance that Ryanair’s business model includes a customer service and complaints process that rarely acknowledges legitimate complaints so I expect very little to come of a complaint based on this incident. And, in fact, I have received no response at all to my complaint. However, hopefully this story may serve as a reminder that while the flights may seem cheaper than competitors, there is a hidden cost to flying Ryanair beyond bag fees and seat charges.”

In his mail he says he does not expect much of a response from Ryanair. We do expect one when we get in touch and we are not disappointed. We are, however, just a little surprised by the tone and the content of that response.

“Dear Conor, Thank you for your query re the above passenger,” it begins pleasantly enough.

Then the pleasantness comes to a shuddering end.

“The facts, and many of the other extraneous claims, made in this letter are false,” it continues.

It says Carl and his partner “were not as he claimed, ‘at the gate long before boarding had commenced’. If they were, they would have boarded on time with the other 170+ passengers.

'We have three boarding agents who boarded this flight and have all verified that [Carl's] claims are false'

“He was not ‘denied boarding by a member of Ryanair staff’, rather he missed his scheduled flight. His travelling partner did board through the gate but was among the very last passengers to do so after the first ‘final call’ PA, which was just before the boarding gate was closed. There were no other passengers present or waiting at the boarding gate at that time and there was no sign of [Carl].”

There is more. A whole lot more.

“After the female passenger boarded, other late arriving passengers boarded and then two further ‘final call’ PA announcements were made at the boarding gate to ensure no additional passengers were waiting to board. This flight was then closed, with over 170 passengers boarded, to ensure an on-time departure at 08:55hrs local. It was only after the boarding gate had closed, and three ‘no-show’ passengers were removed from the manifest, that [Carl] subsequently arrived at the gate claiming he was going to Naples but that he ‘couldn’t get the boarding pass’. He was politely advised that the flight had closed, it couldn’t be reopened, and he had missed his flight.”

The Ryanair response adds that our reader’s “claim that the flight was closed while [he] was standing at the boarding gate ‘literally before my eyes’ is false. He was not at the boarding gate as he claims, either before boarding commenced, or when the final calls were made. Nor was he ‘immediately behind’ his partner, who passed through the boarding gate without incident before the gate was closed. Had he been so, he would have been accommodated. We have three boarding agents who boarded this flight and have all verified that [Carl’s] claims are false. He simply wasn’t there when the gate opened or closed and nor was he present when his companion boarded. The claim that his partner was ‘then given the choice to board the aircraft or also be removed’ is also false,” the statement continues.

“His partner upon learning that [Carl] had missed his flight, refused to board unless [he] was permitted to board. She was politely advised to either board the aircraft and not delay the departure, or alternatively, voluntarily offload, which is what she chose to do. His claim that she was ‘removed’ from the flight is also false.”

Now, to our mind, that does seem like a choice was presented to her given that Ryanair actually says she “was politely advised to either board the aircraft and not delay the departure, or alternatively, voluntarily offload” but no matter. Let’s move on.

Ryanair wasn’t done with our reader yet. “We believe that [his] claim that he is ‘a frontline healthcare worker’ and ‘literally on the floor treating people suffering and dying from Covid’ is also false. It appears from a cursory website scan of his unusual name that he claims to be currently employed as a ‘helicopter pilot’ and so is clearly not a frontline healthcare worker. His claim that the return flight from Naples on October 2nd departed ‘a full hour behind schedule’ is also false. In actual fact, the return flight departed with a 40-minute delay.”

We have been handling reader queries for a very long time but we have never seen a response like this

Carl says there was a 60-minute delay. Ryanair says 40 minutes. We say it was still pretty late leaving Naples. We wouldn’t even mention the fact – planes leave late sometimes, it’s not the end of the world – but Ryanair drew attention to it so we will too.

Ryanair’s spokesperson then returned to the original flight.

“As this flight was subject to a strict air traffic control departure slot, it was essential that the aircraft was boarded on time, and ready for an on-time departure, which was achieved for the convenience of the 170+ passengers who, unlike [Carl], were at the boarding gate when boarding commenced, and when the last passenger boarded just over 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time.”

Now, what follows must count as one of the most non-apology apologies we have ever come across.

“We apologise sincerely to [Carl] for any inconvenience he may have suffered, but in this case, it was entirely of his own making. [Carl] particularly given his occupation as a ‘helicopter pilot’, should be well aware of the need for all passengers to be at the boarding gate at our recommended one hour prior to the scheduled departure time, and in these circumstances he, like his travel companion, would have had no difficulty boarding this flight to Naples or travelling on an on-time departure together with all other Ryanair passengers who did so. We sincerely regret that he did not do so and has subsequently resorted to making what are clearly false claims about his profession and his experience on September 24th last.”

We have been handling reader queries for a very long time – and have featured Ryanair on many occasions – but we have never seen a response like this.

So, let’s address the last claim made by Ryanair first, it is arguably the weirdest part of its response. Ryanair says our reader is “making what are clearly false claims about his profession”.

It bases this claim on a look at our reader’s LinkedIn profile.

So, off we went to have a look at the profile too. It does indeed say he is a helicopter pilot but – and this is the important point that Ryanair appears to have missed on its first pass of its mini-background check of our reader – it also says he qualified as a medical doctor earlier this year.

This point was subsequently confirmed to us by Carl. In response to the Ryanair response he expressed surprise that handling a “genuine complaint involves researching customers’ backgrounds in an effort to discredit them. But I can assure you that yes, I am a medical doctor.”

He sent us his medical council number.

“And while only formally issued with the qualification earlier this year, the delay was due to obligations in my other career (helicopter pilot) and being almost qualified throughout the pandemic my classmates and I have been able to offer our time in volunteer roles such as health care assistants, phlebotomists, vaccinators.

Ryanair staff 'disputed that he had been there at the gate. They even disputed that his girlfriend had been boarded'

“As a small point, when I initially read the response letter I had just returned from the Covid ward and was having my dinner as I headed into a late night shift. In this context, the attempted discrediting was especially tasteless and I would suggest the nameless author reassess their confidence in facts before adopting such an attitude displayed in the letter.”

Carl also takes issue with other elements of the Ryanair response.

He suggests that a look at the security camera footage in Dublin Airport would show he and his partner “in and around the gate in the hour before the flight departed” and would highlight his presence at or close to the boarding gate as the flight was closing.

He also disputes the notion that he “missed” the plane given that “passengers [were] still queuing outside the plane”, although he accepts that the word missed is “open to interpretation”.

We do not have access to Dublin Airport’s CCTV but we did make contact with a Ryanair passenger who happened to be at the same boarding gate at the same time as Carl and his partner so she was able to provide more detail.

We were able to make contact with her because she had spoken with Carl and his partner after the incident and they had exchanged contact details.

So we decided to get in touch with the woman. Her name is Jo. She was not on the Naples flight but on the one leaving from the same gate shortly after that one. She was off to Bristol.

'There was just no understanding, no warmth. It was such a sad sight to see'

“I went to the gate quite soon after they had put the gate number up on the screens,” she says. “When I got there I was a bit confused because the gate screen said Naples. So I went back to the other screens and checked that this definitely was the right gate. I knew I was quite early, so I just sat down at the front nearest seats to the gate, where I thought I would be near the front of the boarding queue.”

She says she was “generally aware of people boarding. I remember hearing them calling people to the gate for Naples. I happened to notice a woman going through and a tall man near the boarding desks on his phone.”

Spoiler alert. It’s Carl.

“He then approached the desk and was told very coldly that the gate had closed and that he couldn’t board. He explained very calmly and politely that he had to board, that his girlfriend had gone through already. I was amazed at how calm he stayed throughout.”

Jo says the Ryanair staff “disputed that he had been there at the gate. They even disputed that his girlfriend had been boarded, even though the woman who said that was the one who had checked her boarding pass and passport.”

Jo went so far as to send us a picture of Carl and his partner in discussions with Ryanair staff at the gate. She had taken it to send to her husband in a message in which she asked him to remind her to tell him this story when she got home.

According to Jo, “it looked like he had been trying to get his boarding pass on his phone and the staff didn’t see him because . . . there were passengers for other flights milling around.”

She concludes by saying she reckons the Ryanair staff were “so cold and unsympathetic with them. There was just no understanding, no warmth. It was such a sad sight to see.”