Forget Charging for Lavs, Ryanair Is Eliminating Ticket Counters at Airports


All the Ryanair buzz this morning is about some casual comments made by Michael O’Leary suggesting he wants to charge people to use the lav onboard. Well of course he does. Even if he is successful in this plot, it’s not nearly as big of a deal as the announcement earlier this week that Ryanair will ditch ticket counters at airports to save money. That could have much larger consequences for travelers than simply having to pay to pee.

This scheme certainly brings up plenty of questions. First of all, how do you check a bag? Fear not, there will still be a bag drop for the anticipated 1 in 5 people that need to check a bag, but that’s about it. I think the plan is to have people check their bags online, tag them, and then drop them off and be done with it. You won’t be able to do anything else until you’re behind security, but the cost savings here may spur Ryanair to actually reduce the bag check fees.

There are undoubtedly going to be some major hiccups here in the short term as they settle into this new routine. Only 75% of people check in online now, so those remaining 25% will have to change their behavior or be out of luck. The communication piece on this change is critical, and I imagine that Ryanair’s best efforts won’t be nearly enough to get 100% compliance.

The good news is that you can check in online up to 14 days in advance. So the excuse of not having internet access for two straight weeks before your flight seems highly unlikely. But what if you happen to forget or you didn’t read the fine print saying you have to check in at home? Will you still be able to check in at the airport on a kiosk? Even if you can, what if you get stuck on a delayed train (if you’re in London, that’s just a given), and you miss your flight? Can you still get through security with your expired boarding pass? Or will you be stuck and out of luck?

There are plenty of scenarios like these that may happen infrequently, but they still will happen. Over the first few months of this plan, Ryanair is going to have to learn about these corner cases, and it’s not going to be a pleasant learning experience for the passenger. Of course, if you buy your ticket for a penny, you’ll suck it up and deal with it.

It’s basically going to be like a bus now, except they’ll frisk you before you get to the door and you can’t pay your fare onboard. But like the bus, nobody will be around to help you figure things out beforehand. You’ll just have to be good at getting around on your own. If you aren’t, well, Ryanair will probably tell you to fly someone else.

Something tells me the cost savings will be worth it for them.

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29 comments on “Forget Charging for Lavs, Ryanair Is Eliminating Ticket Counters at Airports

  1. Once Ryanair gets their “beds and blowjobs” service up and running I’ll suck it up and pay for use of the lav and tag my luggage.

  2. Ryanair allows online check-in only for EU/EEA nationals; people of other nationalities must check in at the airport (they get the check-in fee refunded). I guess Ryanair would now need to revise the EU/EEA nationality policy (which never made sense to me in the first place).

  3. Whenever I am flying (here in the US) and think that I am being treated poorly, or that it used to be so much nicer to fly, or that there are no better options to get where I am trying to go…I remember Ryanair. Once I remember all the stories about them, I usually feel a little better about my situation.

  4. They may end up going to the “pay onboard” model. Remember People’s Express (was that the name) where the flight attendants came down the aisle collecting money instead of serving beverages? I worked in DC as an intern in the late 1980’s and we would fly them each weekend to Boston from DC. We always thought it was a hoot (and they didn’t care that we brought our own alcohol either)…

  5. Debi – Ah yes, PEOPLExpress did sell tickets onboard, but that’ll never happen today. The TSA wants to know exactly who is flying before the plane takes off and if there are no tickets sold in advance, they can’t make that happen. Bummer, really.

    Heather – I can see it now. If Ryanair starts charging for lav use, then they’ll start charging people for seating based upon how far they are from the lav. You know the drunk soccer (football) hooligans will just go wherever they can.

  6. “. . . [B]ut the cost savings here may spur Ryanair to actually reduce the bag check fees.”

    No way. They will keep the money.

  7. I’m not sure I buy the 75% of people check in online stat. I’ve flown them twice in the last few months, Liverpool to Budapest and East Midlands to Tenerife. I’d estimate that only half the Budapest flight checked in online and for the Tenerife flight, I’d say maybe 85% of the aircraft had checked baggage, so were forced to check in at the airport. And that 85% all paid handsomely for their bags. Do you eliminate some of them and eliminate a load of revenue?

    On a related note, you have to see their in flight food prices to believe them, 2 coffees and 2 sandwiches? That’ll be £18 or $25 at the minute.

    However, no one should complain they were expecting more than was delivered, they manage your expectations downward from the moment you browse to their 1990’s era website. And lets face it, £85 to fly 1900 miles (return) is too cheap to not be able to put up with the Ryanair experience. Can you fly from LAX to MIA (and back) for $120? It’s ridiculously cheap, stupidly cheap even.

  8. Jim – You have to remember that this is a systemwide stat. I have no question that leisure destinations like Tenerife and places with lower internet penetration like Hungary are going have lower percentages of people who check in online. However, if you look at a flight from London to Dublin or anywhere in Scandanavia, there are probably very few people checking in at the airport. Same goes for bag check. There will be a lot more to Tenerife than on a London Dublin flight. That does, however, bring up the question about how well Ryanair will prepare for this differential in different cities. Who knows?

    Ryanair would gladly eliminate much of the bag revenue because they can simplify their operation without baggage. If they could ban bags, they wouldn’t need a bag drop, luggage carts, many rampers, etc.

  9. What happens if you have luggage to check but no printer? Plus I can’t see home made tags being as sturdy as the current airport ones!

  10. Chris – There are a million what if scenarios like this that will definitely cause headaches initially. But the fact that you can check in up to 14 days prior to departure makes it unlikely that you can’t find a printer somewhere.

  11. I would think if charging for the lav is going to work anywhere, it would be in Europe where pay public toilets are much more common than they are in the US.

  12. “Ryanair would gladly eliminate much of the bag revenue because they can simplify their operation without baggage.” — But then they would be flying with empty cargo holds, and surely there is a way to squeeze out some extra profit from that space. Express cargo? Steerage class?

  13. Cranky (or anyone else),

    What exactly is the purpose today of check-in? I realize this is slightly off topic. But I don’t understand it fully…for example I think Air NZ allows you to check in a year or something in advance. So basically when you book you can check in. I guess you say here Ryanair is 14 days out. And I’m not sure if this is the same on all airlines, but I can still change my class of service/time/date/cancel even after checking in…for example on Cathay Pacific I frequently change my flight after doing online check-in for a flight (48 hours out). What exactly is the rationale behind it?

  14. Flew them once Dublin to Pisa. Slightly better than a stint in a Turkish prison, but not by much.

    Cheap, but its a grueling experience and one to be done rarely.

  15. Cranky – The thing I haven’t been able to find out about this story is what do they mean when they say “close ticket counters”? Does that mean they are planning to have nothing landside at the airport except a place to drop off you’re pre-tagged bags? If so surely that would be a nightmare as all the scenarios in this thread suggest. However don’t they have those self checkin machines? They seem to be everywhere, surely if they had a bunch of these, or just some PCs with printers. Then if someone showed up at the airport without checking in the could do it themselves right there. They could even make you put a credit card in an charge a fee for checking in at the airport. That would encourage people to checkin online before and they could eliminate all the staffed ticket counters.

  16. Actually at Air NZ we used to have check-in up to 12 months out but now we have dropped check-in as a concept altogether from our Domestic airports. Customers go to a kiosk to get a bag tag, tag there own bag and then drop their bags on an open (but monitored) conveyor belt and then go to the gate. At the gate they swipe past a scanner using a 2D bar code printed at home, a 2D barcode sent to their mobile phone, or using a RFID tag stuck to the back of their mobile phone.

    We have totally eliminated queueing from our biggest airports.

    check out the animated video on under the “Our New Domestic Airports” link

  17. QRC – It’s a great question, and one that I can’t really answer. The point of check-in used to be that you were announcing that you were at the airport for your flight. Now that really doesn’t apply anymore. As Stephen says, they’re moving away from the concept of check-in. It wouldn’t surprise me if others start to do the same – and that could be what Ryanair is trying to do here as well.

    Alex – Beats me. Ryanair and O’Leary often speak before there’s a definite plan in place. I’m sure we’ll hear more about it as they work out the details. Hopefully most of those get worked out before the policy goes into place.

  18. “The point of check-in used to be that you were announcing that you were at the airport for your flight” — Doesn’t this announcement still carry some legal or financial implications? Typically when you don’t show up for a flight, the airline still has to give you something, even if it’s just credit for future flights minus a change fee. Once you have checked in online, they warn you that you’ll be entitled to nothing if you miss your flight unless you contact them to cancel your check-in (I don’t know if the threat is real, I’ve never had the unfortunate occasion to check it). So check-in may be the point when you announce you’re *really* taking the flight and take upon yourself some of the risk that was up to that point assumed by the airline. I’m not sure what benefits you gain at that point — on US LCCs you get better boarding slots if you check in early; on traditional carriers perhaps checking in early gets you low on the bump list for an overbooked flight?

    I think that with European LCCs you lose everything on a no-show even if you didn’t check in, so perhaps there’s less meaning to checking in.

    Also, when traveling internationally, the airline has to check your documents. This is typically done outside security. In the UK there is also a document check at the gate, but that may be for ID purposes only, I’m not sure. Either way, Ryanair will have to do admissibility checks for many of their flights at some point before boarding if they don’t want to keep shuttling travelers who have been denied entry to their destination country.

  19. Ron – The whole nature of being “checked in” really does have to change now that you can check in so early. Another issue I thought of is that checking in makes sure you actually have an assigned seat. It’s very easy to make a flight reservation and not have a seat assigned. This is a way of making sure you have that. Of course, that doesn’t matter to Ryanair since they don’t assign seats.

  20. Cranky — checking in does not always give you an assigned seat; I have received “gate passes” in the past, with actual seat assignments given at the gate immediately before boarding.

  21. Ron – Yep, if the flight is oversold you won’t get a seat assignment if all the seats are taken. But then you’re put on the list to get the seat assignment. You won’t be on that list unless you’ve checked in.

  22. Ryanair doesn’t overbook (except in very minor cases on the London-Dublin route, where they have a lot of flights). They also do not preassign seating. Tickets are non-refundable, so whether you cancel in advance or are a no-show, you don’t get any money back or future credit. The Govt tax / airports fees are officially refundable, but Ryanair impose an administrative fee for applying for this refund – sufficiently large that nobody bothers to apply for this refund (and yes, Ryanair make quite a bit of money on this).

    Most of Ryanair’s network – apart from the UK, Ireland, Romania and Morocco is part of the Schengen area. For flights within Schengen-land, there are no immigration checks at airports. Those travelling with EU passports or identity cards have the automatic legal right of entry to any EU airport.

    The only real case for concern, is people who have a passport not from the EU or a rich country (e.g. somewhere like Turkey) who are flying between the UK/Ireland/Morocco and the rest of Europe and may need a visa. In any case, staff at check-in desks for Ryanair are actively incentivised to check these cases (they get US$30 for each invalid passport they find) – I suspect a similiar scheme will continue.

    Annual rentals for a check-in desk at an airport are not cheap (never mind the additional labour cost on top !) – cutting out that spend would be worth it to any airline.

  23. Correction to my last post. While the money paid to Ryanair is non-refundable, one can pay some extra money for a future flight to be changed

  24. Found some clarification on this in ATW today.

    *All counters will close by Oct 1

    *Beginning March 19, web check-in will be available for non-EU/EEA people, people with bags, and “reduced mobility” customers

    *Starting May 1, all new bookings will be required to use internet check in.

  25. I booked 2 Ryanair return flights Edinburgh-Berlin for May, a single on-line booking for myself and someone who has a US passport Now the other person is taking a different flight with a different airline.
    Can I still use my part of the booking, without making a ‘name change’? Obviously I’d just forfeit the money paid for the other person’s ticket. This is considerably cheaper than a ‘name change’ charge, as I understand it.
    I just want to be sure I’d be allowed on the flight without the other person. (I’ll be checking in on-line.)

  26. oue – I’m sorry, but I don’t know the answer to this one for sure. I would say that yes, you should be able to use your booking without any trouble, but this is Ryanair and they don’t always do things as usual. I would suggest contacting Ryanair directly to find out.

  27. The reason a lot of people don’t check bags on Ryanair flights is because they don’t need to. Since they heavily depend on the day or two or weekend traveller a lot of people can do without baggage.

    But there is a cost associated with increased numbers of large bags going through the security kiosks, which mean bigger delays. So security at the airports is forced to hire more security to shorten the queues, which ends up charged back as higher airport charges to pay for more security to check the bags that are now going through security rather than checkin.

    This ultimately ends up back as increased taxes and charges which means you ultimately end up paying just as much as you would have in the first place.

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