Spanish Judge Nixes 'Unfair' Airline Fee

Posted Jan 18th 2011 02:01 PMUpdated Jan 18th 2011 02:59 PM

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A Spanish judge knocked down a fee charged by Ryanair, an Irish airline that prides itself for charging fees for everything beyond the basic seat.

Ryanair required passengers to print their own boarding passes at home or work; those who didn't were charged €40 (about $53.50) to have a boarding pass printed at the airport.

But Judge Barbara Maria Cordoba of the Barcelona commercial court says airlines, not passengers, are obliged to issue boarding cards.

"I declare unfair and therefore void the contractual clause in which Ryanair obliges the passenger to be the one who brings the printed boarding pass to travel or face a penalty," she says in her ruling.

The Irish Times says it could be a "landmark ruling with implications on the airline's charging policies across Europe."

Ryanair charges rock-bottom fares – currently it offers a sale fare of about $11.18 from Bristol, U.K., to Beziers in southern France – but it is a pioneer in the field of airline fees.

It was among the first to charge for checked bags, priority boarding, call center reservations and coffee, soft drinks and snacks.

Those policies have been copied by low-cost carriers in Europe and, more recently, by mainstream airlines in the U.S.

It also charges all passengers an "administration fee" of about €5 ($8) unless they pay with a MasterCard pre-paid debit card.

Ryanair says it plans to appeal the ruling. The airline maintains the printing of boarding passes by passengers is a clearly understood part of its contract with customers.

The carrier also threatens to dispense with the penalty fee and shut down its ability to printing boarding passes at the airport if it loses on appeal.

"Passengers who arrive at the airport without the agreed pre-printed boarding card will not be able to pass through security or board their aircraft," says the airline.

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