Ryanair orders passenger with bag question to “shut up” — does she deserve a refund?

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By Christopher Elliott

The Irish discount carrier Ryanair has a well-earned reputation for unapologetically burying its customers in fees, including charges for carrying their bags on board. It isn’t as well-known for its unfailingly polite defenses of its indefensible policies and their uneven implementation.

Yomna Nasr’s story probably won’t change your opinion of Ryanair. But after reading it, you may grudgingly give it points for its clever non-apologies.

Nasr was flying from Malaga back to the UK on Oct. 28 with her family when she was stopped for having an oversize carry-on bag. “We were subjected to a bitter confrontation and despicably racist remarks,” she says.

She’s asked Ryanair to refund the carry-on fee, but so far, it’s refused. She wants me to intervene on her behalf.

Let’s get a few details from her first:

My family and I were stopped just as we were about to board the plane, as our bag was apparently too large and was subject to additional charges.

I was suspicious as to why we were held, as fellow passengers walked past us with larger cabin bags. We believed this was somewhat unfair and thought it would be appropriate to ask why.

She instantly became hostile and refused to reason with us in a sensible manner. Matters became worse when she continued yelling, also screaming at my brother, telling him to “shut up.”

When Nasr asked to speak with a supervisor, she says the employee hid her name tag and threatened to call security. Then the Ryanair agent added, “It’s funny how foreigners like you come to our country to get a European passport,” according to Nasr.

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She adds,

The ordeal left us contemplating as to how it was possible to be discriminately targeted and treated like barbarians by an established airline. My family and I can no longer fly free from institutional racism and abuse. I hope you can understand the seriousness of this matter, as I cannot trust flying with Ryanair in the foreseeable future.

Now, I wasn’t there when Nasr’s family boarded their flight in Malaga. Here are a few things I can say. Any Middle Eastern flyer is going to attract attention, for obvious reasons. And if those passengers are carrying oversize bags, then yes, they’ll probably be flagged.

It’s how those passengers are flagged that’s important. Telling a passenger to “shut up” and making remarks about their ethnicity and then hiding your nametag is not in the Ryanair employee manual. It can’t be. (Related: What to do when your airline tells you to shut up.)

Nasr sent an email to Ryanair describing the ordeal. Here’s how the airline responded (I’ve made a few edits for brevity):

I can confirm that a full internal investigation has been carried out with our airport handling agents whom were on duty at Malaga Airport on the 28/10/2012.

Our handling agents at Malaga Airport have completed written reports in relation to this particular incident.

Once again, on behalf of Ryanair, I do regret any difficulties that you and your travelling companions experienced at Malaga Airport. We regret if this incident caused you any upset or discomfort.

Following on from this, I wish to advise that as per our Terms and Conditions, each passenger (excluding infants) is permitted to carry one piece of cabin baggage on board.

Strictly one item of cabin baggage is permitted per passenger. Handbag, briefcase, laptops, shop purchases, camera etc. must be carried within your permitted 1 piece of cabin baggage.

The cabin baggage should weigh no more than 10kg and not exceed the maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm.

For the safety and convenience of all passengers, cabin baggage must fit underneath the seat or in the overhead compartment. We reserve the right to cancel your reservation without refund and to deny you boarding if you arrive at the boarding gate with more than one item of cabin baggage or if that item exceeds the maximum dimensions.

The agent at Malaga Airport has confirmed that your hand baggage exceeded the dimensions; as a result you were requested to pay the relevant fee and have your bag placed in the hold.

Unfortunately, some passengers take advantage of the generous 10kg hand luggage allowance that is permitted. Therefore it has been necessary for Ryanair to only allow one piece of hand luggage per passenger.

The baggage weighing scales at all the airports we serve are checked and calibrated by the relevant Government Department. Our handling agents are obliged to check the dimensions of hand baggage and apply the relevant fees in all circumstances where this allowance is exceeded. Our records confirm that the procedure taken in Malaga Airport on the 28/10/2012 was completed correctly.

Nonetheless, we regret that the strict baggage policy of Ryanair was not adhered to fully whilst you were travelling with Ryanair. As such, your comments have been forwarded to the Base Manager at Malaga Airport for their information and to ensure that all staff implement all Ryanair policies at all times.

Notwithstanding this, I wish to advise that Ryanair prides itself on the high standards of service and professionalism provided by our staff. We endeavour to maintain these high standards with regular retraining programmes, which focus on providing excellent service to our customers. Our key customer service objective is for all staff, whether from Ryanair or from a ground handling company, to provide customers with an excellent standard of service and professionalism.

We sincerely regret if you felt that this was not reflected to you on this occasion and as such have forwarded your comments onto our Ground Staff Manager at Malaga Airport for their review. Please note that Ryanair is a non-discriminatory company and we do regret if any offence was taken.

I wish to assure you that Ryanair’s main concern at all times is the safety of our passengers. If other passengers fail to comply with safety instructions and security regulations at the boarding gate, they will be denied boarding if they continue to obstruct other passengers boarding the aircraft.

Upon completion of this investigation, I am therefore unable to accede to your request for a refund on this occasion.

Once again, please accept our sincere apologies and we hope despite your dissatisfaction on this occasion, that you will afford us the opportunity to welcome you on board another Ryanair flight in the future.

Potential steps forward

There are a few issues here. First is the baggage fee. Nasr doesn’t seem to be suggesting that her bag was not oversized — only that other passengers in Malaga were being allowed on the flight with large bags, too. It would be difficult to ask Ryanair to refund the baggage fees because others weren’t being charged. (Related: Are fees for carry-on luggage just the beginning.)

Second, the treatment of Nasr’s family. No excuse for that, even if it is Ryanair. Hiding the name tag and threatening to call security? That’s just out of line, and the airline’s response simply glossed over it. While I kind of admire Ryanair’s writing chops, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a less sincere apology. (Here’s the best luggage for your next trip.)

Ryanair has never responded to any of my questions, and I’m not sure if it will start with this one. But if I get involved, what should I ask for? A better apology?

The bigger problem isn’t the crewmember or Nasr’s baggage — it’s the wrongheaded luggage policy that forced this confrontation.

Should I mediate Yomna Nasr's case with Ryanair?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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