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Madrid court orders Ryanair to pay back hand luggage charge to passenger

The ruling describes the airline’s latest baggage policy as “abusive,” but the Irish low-cost carrier says that the case will not have any effect on its controversial rules

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Ryanair counter at the El Prat airport in Barcelona. AFP

A Madrid court has ruled that a clause in Ryanair’s controversial baggage policy, which obliges passengers to pay an extra charge to take hand luggage on board the low-cost carrier’s planes, is not covered by European Union laws and also violates domestic legislation. The ruling states that the Irish airline’s rule is “abusive as it curtails the rights that the passenger has recognized by [article 97 of the Air Navigation Law], generating an imbalance of benefits between the contracting parties to the detriment of the consumer.” The tribunal has ruled that this clause should be declared null and void and removed from the contract.

The ruling originated with a complaint from a passenger who was asked to pay €20 at the boarding gate for her hand luggage

The ruling originated with a complaint from a passenger who was asked to pay €20 at the boarding gate for her 10-kilogram item of hand luggage because she had not purchased a priority fare in advance. The Madrid court has sided with the women’s claim and has forced the airline to return the €20 fee (plus interest) but not the €10 she asked for in damages.

The court explains in the sentence that the issue that the dispute refers to is “an important legal issue as to whether the airline can charge an additional cost to the passenger for carrying hand luggage” – not handbags or shopping bags from the airport, “but bags or backpacks in which passengers are carrying their clothes, personal belongings and other objects.”

The ruling mentions that the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has already addressed the issue and distinguished between luggage destined for the hold and “unchecked hand luggage.” Hold items aren’t considered as an essential for passenger transport, and therefore companies may charge extra for them. However, “hand luggage or unchecked luggage” is said to be an “essential element of air transport so companies are obliged to carry it without demanding any type of extra charge on top of the price of the ticket.”

The Irish carrier told news agency Europa Press on Wednesday afternoon that the ruling “will not affect” its luggage policy “either in the past or in future cases.” According to the airline, the Madrid Court ruling “refers to a specific case that has misinterpreted” their commercial freedom to determine the size of cabin bags allowed on board their aircraft.

Ryanair said the ruling “will not affect” its luggage policy “either in the past or in future cases”

Ryanair’s new baggage policy came into effect on November 1 of last year, and obliges passengers to pay should they want to bring a larger piece of hand luggage on board, such as a 10-kilogram trolley case, for example. These passengers have to buy a priority ticket, of which there are a limited number. Only smaller bags are allowed onto the plane for free. Some countries, such as Italy, fined the company for “deceiving” the consumer with this new luggage policy, on the basis that it wasn’t transparent in terms of the true price of a ticket.

According to Almudena Velázquez, lawyer for the consumer-rights platform reclamador.es, while the sentence does not “declare any contractual clauses null and void, but rather orders the return of the sum the passenger was forced to pay, it does set out a path for similar cases in which additional amounts are demanded in a completely contrived way and that serve, in reality, to increase the final price of the ticket, to impose fictitious restrictions that are not supported in any rules and that can only be overcome if you pay an additional amount.”

English version by Alicia Kember.

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