Ryanair: Are we witnessing the slow death of free hand luggage?
Ryanair is set to become the only European airline to charge for hand luggage. Will others follow suit?
From November 1, only Ryanair customers who pay for Priority Boarding may take two cabin bags on board. What does this mean for air travel and baggage fees?
Ryanair is charging for hand luggage now?
Yes. From November 1, passengers who refuse to pay extra for “Priority” will only be permitted to travel with one small bag (35cm x 20cm x 20cm) free of charge (read about Ryanair's new baggage policy here).
Currently, the airline allows all customers to travel with two items of hand luggage: one small bag and one large bag (no bigger than 55x40x20cm and no heavier than 10kg). However, if they are “Non-Priority”, the larger bag is taken at the gate and put in the hold free of charge.
Once the changes come into effect, passengers will be faced with a decision. Travel with just a small bag; pay the Priority fee (which costs from €6 per person per flight at the time of booking or €8 during online check-in); or pay €8 per person per flight to check in their 10kg bag.
The airline claims the changes are not about making money, but about speeding up the boarding process and reducing delays. It also insists that only 40 per cent of its passengers will be affected, as 30 per cent already pay the “Priority” fee, and a further 30 per cent already travel with just a small bag.
It all sounds complicated...
I think Ryanair’s baggage and boarding policies have become increasingly baffling over the last year or two. Its passengers could once travel safe in the knowledge that, so long as their cabin bag was the right size and weight, they wouldn’t be stung by any extra fees. Now, unless you fancy a long weekend with just the tiniest amount of luggage, and don’t mind being split up from your travelling companions because you haven’t paid for allocated seating, its “optional” charges are unavoidable.
Top 10 | Airlines earning from extra charges each year
- United - $6,199,000,000 (€5.3bn)
- American - $4,718,000,000 (€4bn)
- Delta - $3,775,102,000 (€3.2bn)
- Air France/KLM - $2,165,996,840 (€1.85bn)
- Southwest - $2,118,600,000 (€1.8bn)
- Ryanair - $1,738,783,339 (€1.49bn)
- Lufthansa Group - $1,493,634,397 (€1.27bn)
- easyJet - £1,465,956,723 (€1.25bn)
- Qantas - $1,167,168,403 (€999m)
- Alaska Air - $1,092,000,000 (€935m)
*Source: Idea Works, aviation industry analyst
I want to travel with a 10kg bag – which fee should I pay?
Should you prefer to travel with a larger carry-on case, the best course of action is pretty obvious. Pay the Priority fee. It costs less (€6 vs €8) and you won’t be delayed queueing at Ryanair’s bag drop desk before you go through security. Furthermore, if your luggage has slipped over the 10kg limit, there’s a good chance it will be spotted at the bag drop desk (and you’ll be charged extra).
But there are lingering questions
How strict will Ryanair be when it comes to enforcing the new, slightly larger 40 x 20 x 25cm limit for smaller items of luggage?
I usually travel with a backpack that exceeds these dimensions, but have always been allowed to take it on board despite never paying the Priority fee. I’ve not recently seen any measuring devices at the gate, and staff appear to allow a bit of wiggle room when it comes to rucksacks and small holdalls, focusing their attention on wheelie bags, but will they become more attentive once the new rules come into effect?
It’s certainly a risky business for travellers. If their bag is deemed too big at the gate, they will be forced to pay a whopping fine of €25.
It seems likely that there will be considerable confusion when the new rules come into effect. Having changed its baggage rules several times in the last few years, passengers could well be caught unawares, raising the prospect of arguments at the gate – and the sort of delays that Ryanair is apparently so keen to eliminate.
Furthermore, what will happen if everyone affected by the changes decides to pay the Priority fee? Ryanair says Priority Boarding will be capped at 95 passes per flight.
Is it the first airline to charge for hand luggage?
No. Wizz Air was something of a trailblazer in that regard.
For several years the Hungarian low-cost airline, which offers services from the UK to destinations as diverse as Gdansk, Tel Aviv, Lisbon and Kiev, operated a very similar policy, permitted passengers to travel with a small item of hand luggage (up to 42cm x 32cm x 25cm) but charging a €10 fee for larger carry-on bags (up to 55cm x 40cm x 20cm).
However, it scrapped that fee in 2017 in favour of a new policy that looks a lot like Ryanair’s former policy. Passengers can now travel with two items of hand luggage (one large, one small) if they pay between €5 and €12 for “Wizz Priority”. If they don’t, they can travel with just one bag – and if it doesn’t fit under the seat in front, it goes in the hold (free of charge).
Still with us?
What other airlines charge for carry-on bags?
Another low-cost carrier, Jet2, also steered its policy towards the old Ryanair model last year. Its passengers can still travel with hand luggage (up to 56cm x 45cm x 25cm) free of charge, but if they want to guarantee it isn’t put in the hold they must pay an extra fee (from £2 per person per return flight). Will Ryanair’s move encourage Jet2 to rethink its rules? The airline has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Changes have really taken off in America...
Florida-based Spirit Airlines, which bills itself as an “ultra-low-cost” carrier, permits a small bag (handbag or laptop bag) on board at no extra cost.
Larger hand luggage costs a remarkable $39 per person per flight (€33) at the time of booking, or $59 (€39) during online check-in, or $69 (€59) at the airport. That’s as much as €363 on hand luggage for return flights for a family of four.
Other “ultra-low-cost” carriers do likewise. Allegiant Air, founded in Las Vegas in 1997, charges between $15 (€13) and $22 (€19) per person per flight, depending on your departure airport, at the booking stage, $45 (€39) pre-departure, or $50 (€43) at the airport.
Frontier Airlines, based in Denver, demands between $30 (€26) and $60 (€51). Canada’s Flair Airlines also has a fee, while another Canadian carrier Swoop, which launched last year, charges more for hand luggage (from $36.75) than it does for checked luggage.
Even some traditional US carriers now have de facto carry-on bag fees, thanks to the widespread introduction of “basic economy” fares. United’s cheapest fares permit just a single small item of hand luggage (up to 23cm x 25cm x 43cm). Anyone who wants a larger allowance must pay extra. “Basic economy” on American Airlines comes with similar restrictions, and amounts to a charge for larger items hand luggage.
Will more airlines follow suit?
The tiered fare structure introduced by US carriers is certainly catching on around the world. British Airways, Delta, Alitalia, Aer Lingus, SAS, Swiss, TAP Portugal, Austrian, Brussels, KLM and Air France are among those to have adopted it, with the bottom tier variously described as “light”, “economy light” and “basic”.
However, they all currently include hand luggage.
No other airlines have signalled their intention to start charging for hand luggage, and easyJet, Europe’s second biggest low-cost carrier, said it has “no plans at present” to change its baggage policy.
But this week two Canadian airlines, Air Canada and WestJet, raised their checked bag fees, prompting experts to suggest charges for carry-on luggage would be next.
“It’s only a matter of time,” Fred Lazar, an airline analyst and professor of economics at York University in Toronto, told CBC. “The initial driver will be the problems as people shift more and more to carry-on. That just occupies more space [in the cabin] and creates more problems.”
The result, he believes, will be a fee for carry-on bags to stem the tide.
Jay Sorensen of IdeaWorks Company, which analyses “ancillary revenue” in the aviation industry, suggested a “dynamic” approach to bag fees is becoming increasingly popular. “Travellers certainly love their carry-on bags, and there’s a feeling that these should be free of charge,” he says, so airlines will need to be cautious. But they will also be keen to maximise revenue.
He added: “Airlines will be experimenting with these fees - and all fees - to determine which level produces the most overall revenue. A higher fee doesn’t guarantee more revenue, as a reduction could generate more activity and yield more revenue. So in some cases, they might go either up or down. However, I think the tradition of a fixed fee for baggage will gradually be replaced with something that varies by trip and even consumer.”
Is there any benefit to a charge for carry-on luggage?
Convincing travellers to abandon their love of the carry-on, and embrace checked luggage, could be positive.
“A fee for larger cabin carry-ons greatly reduces the clutter of bags in the cabin,” said Sorensen. “Ultimately, that's a very good benefit for safety, especially in the event of a emergency evacuation.”
Devin Liddell, principal strategist at Teague, a design consultancy that specialises in aviation and counts Boeing among its clients, also believes it make sense for airlines to shift the fees from hold luggage to carry-ons as it would speed up boarding times.
A 2017 study by Which? found that more and more passengers are having their cabin bags forced into the hold because overhead lockers are full. Liddell says if all carry-on bags were banished to the hold the boarding process would be sped up by 80 per cent
“One provocative option is to ban all large carry-ons, and outfit the aircraft with far slimmer bins meant solely for small bags,” he says.
“Limiting cabin bags to computer bags, purses, jackets and the like eliminates the chronic Tetris game we’re playing with larger roll-aboard bags. Another idea is to reward passengers who aren’t bringing those large bags aboard through faster screening, reduced fares, preferred seats or even free drinks.”
Read more:'Someone else will take their seat' - Ryanair responds to backlash as free 10kg cabin bag era ends