Ryanair has fulfilled its promise to eliminate all airport check-in desks, thus moving the process of checking in entirely online, where passengers must pay £5 (around $8, check XE.com for current exchange rates) for the privilege. Passengers who do not check in online will be assessed a £40 charge at the airport, meaning there is no way around the fee and, instead, a stiff penalty for not paying it.
The announcement came with the sort of disdain Ryanair typically shows toward its customers, courtesy of an unnamed spokesman: "The high fee is designed to encourage people to remember [to check in online] … hopefully they will only forget once." Oh, by the way, thanks for flying with Ryanair!
At this point, Ryanair has become a caricature of the airline industry as a whole, or, put more usefully, a very willing guinea pig in the ongoing a-la-carte airfare experiment. Where airlines here in the U.S. have tread boldly (but carefully), Ryanair has sprinted with reckless abandon, adding fees for every aspect of flying short of the seat itself (well, and bathrooms, for now). In some cases—these check-in charges, for example—the fees are unavoidable, essentially part of the fare. And so that amazing £6 fare is really £11 with the check-in fee—no, it's actually £16 with the payment handling fee. Check a bag and now it's £31. And so on.
And so far, no matter how far Ryanair pushed its fees, its passengers have remained. But that has to change at some point, right? Let's hope so, because like I said, Ryanair is the lone carrier willing (nay, eager) to charge fees other carriers only dream of charging. Ryanair's success, then, serves as justification for other carriers to be more ambitious with their own fees. I'd like to think unavoidable check-in fees would never catch on here in the U.S., but who among us ever thought we'd pay to check our bags? Plus, Ryanair's new check-in policy seems destined for a run-in with the U.K.'s Air Transport Users Council, and quite likely the government as well. One has to think the same would follow here in the States.
Fortunately, Ryanair's influence on the U.S. is mitigated by a large ocean, and our domestic airlines can only watch and learn. As a competitor here in the U.S., Ryanair's boldness would have far greater consequences, and quite frankly could exert significant pressure on the market. Instead, we can all be thankful that Ryanair's way of doing business is, for now, not our problem.
**Update, October 6: Reader Steve Wicker wrote in to remind me that Allegiant Air's check-in policy isn't too different from Ryanair's. Allegiant only lets you check in online if you pre-purchase your seat selection, effectively charging you to use the website for this purpose. Allegiant also charges $14 for, in its own words, "the convenience of using any of Allegiant Air's booking services." Oh, by the way, thanks for flying with Ryana— I mean, Allegiant!