Travelers love the choice of a budget airline like Ryanair for its rock-bottom fares to destinations around the world. But in some cases, the same rock-bottom fares can also mean sparring with customer service and facing additional fees, including for “unchecking” from flights, as in the case of Damian Lloyd and his family.
The Lloyd family had checked in to their flights to Gran Canaria a month in advance and brought printed boarding passes to the airport in July—but the tickets were not able to be scanned. After being unable to contact customer service or receive help from the airport’s airline representative on his prior check in, the Lloyd family wound up paying $200 to check in again, the BBC reported.
Confusion at the airport
Lloyd, a health and safety manager who is a frequent flier himself, said he was in “total shock” to hear about an extra fee. But he wasn’t alone—even the Ryanair employee at the Bristol airport seemed confused, he said.
“He looked on the computer, and our names and seat numbers came up. But for some reason [the boarding passes] weren’t scanning. He didn’t know why,” Lloyd told the BBC. Ryanair, like most other airlines, didn’t allow passengers to check into flights without scanning their boarding passes.
An employee at Europe’s largest budget airline couldn’t raise the matter with customer service at the time as it was early in the morning, which left Lloyd’s family with two options—either miss the flight and take one three days later while waiting to talk to customer service, or pay the extra $200 charge.
The Ryanair employee also reportedly said the reason the additional fee was reflected was a computer glitch, which the airline later denied.
When Lloyd tried to claim his money back from the Dublin-based airline, his request was rejected. Ryanair said that he didn’t verify his identity, even though a customer service representative had confirmed that he had.
Ryanair told the BBC the family had unchecked themselves the day before the flight—but Lloyd said he had no memory of doing so.
“They [the family] unchecked themselves on the website on 22 July and ignored the pop-up that warned them they would have to check in again and generate new boarding passes,” a Ryanair representative told Fortune. “As they didn’t have valid boarding passes, they were correctly charged the airport check-in fee.”
The airline also emphasized that it didn’t have an “unchecking” fee, but if customers unchecked themselves and failed to check in at least 2 hours ahead of the flight, they’d face a penalty.
“They earn hundreds of millions a year. If I had made the mistake I’d put my hands in the air and pay but I did have the right passes,” Lloyd said.
Ryanair has referred Lloyd to an independent body that handles airline disputes called AviationADR.
Customer service on the spotlight
Over the years, Irish low-cost airline Ryanair has earned a reputation for its poor customer service. Consumer research group Which? found that the airline company had consistently been rated among the lowest in its rankings, based on factors including seat comfort and boarding experience. In a report released last month which surveyed over 8,000 passengers, Which? revealed that Ryanair had the second-lowest customer score, a measure of overall satisfaction, of just 52%.
Last year, the consumer group named Ryanair the worst short-haul airline for handling refunds during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The budget carrier has been described by customers as “greedy” and “sneaky” in the past, as it often charges customers for things like oversized bags and airport check-ins—similar to other low-cost airlines like Wizz Airlines.
To be sure, budget airlines often provide the most basic services as part of their offerings so customers can travel without spending a lot of money, while offering more services at a cost. But this has, in many cases, resulted in customers caught up in prolonged row with the airline group, unable to resolve the dispute in a quick manner as they might with other airlines.
Other cases of Ryanair in customer service rows have cropped up in recent times, including where an elderly couple was charged a hefty fee of $136 just to print their tickets at the airport.
Hey @Ryanair, my parents who are in their 70s and 80s, had accidentally downloaded the return flight boarding card instead of the outgoing ones and you charged them £110 to print them at the airport. £110 for 2 pieces of paper which took 1 minute. Shame on you
— Old School House Venosc 💙 (@old_school_alps) August 13, 2023
For its part, Ryanair is showing signs of improvement—a YouGov survey on Ryanair’s brand perception by customers found a slight improvement in metrics like quality of service and brand satisfaction, although it still remained negative. And in May, Ryanair reported its first profitable quarter since the pandemic, thanks to a rebound in travel and higher airfares.