WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2011 — -- Did a group of fed-up fliers fire the first salvo in a new war over airline fees? Or is it better characterized as a "mutiny," as some travel blogs are calling it?
However you label it, passengers travelling aboard Ryanair flight 8175 apparently had had enough with airline fees. So much so that 100 of them, travelling on a flight from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands to Brussels, Belgium, had to be removed from the airplane by Spanish police over the weekend.
The passengers became disruptive and refused to comply with crew instructions after a number of their group was assessed a "gate bag fee," according to a statement posted online by Ryanair. The fee applies to bags that exceed certain weight and size limitations and runs 35 Euros (about $47.50) per bag.
The Irish-based low-cost carrier says "Lanzarote police required the entire aircraft to be offloaded, each passenger identified," adding, "Following further disruptive behavior, the police required for security reasons that this entire group be refused travel."
BBC News identified the group as Belgian students, adding that approximately 70 of the students were still stuck in Lanzarote Sunday night. The BBC also reported that the plane was preparing for takeoff when the pilot radioed for police assistance.
Ryanair said it would re-accommodate some of the group. However, the airline added that "any individuals who engaged in disruptive behavior or refused to follow crew instructions will not be allowed to fly." The incident resulted in a three-hour delay for the remaining passengers.
Ryanair lists over 20 fees on its website, starting at four Euros for priority boarding access. The carrier charges 40 Euros to re-issue a lost or misplaced boarding pass, a fee that has generated some controversy. According to a BBC News report, a judge in Spain has ruled that fee illegal.
Ryanair Passengers Revolt Over Airline Fees
On its website Ryanair defends the practice.
"Ryanair's low fare, low cost services appeal to millions of passengers because they are simple, efficient and agreed by each passenger at the time of booking," it says. "Without these procedures, Ryanair would have to re-employ numerous handling agents at all airports to issue manual boarding cards for passengers who simply 'forgot' to bring their pre-printed boarding passes or who failed to comply with their original agreement to check-in online."
Ryanair, of course, is not alone in charging passengers fees. Charging fees for services, often called a-la-carte pricing, has become the norm for airlines in the United States as well.
The practice took off in 2007 when cash-strapped carriers turned to fees to offset rising fuel prices. Now, passengers flying on an airline in the U.S. can encounter any number of airline fees from a pre-boarding fee to a charge for extra leg room.