Passengers to be charged for checking in luggage

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The Independent Online

Families hoping to enjoy a budget break courtesy of Ryanair this summer are in for a nasty surprise. From next month, the no-frills airline will slap a £5 penalty on every bag passengers wish to check in.

The move could see travellers paying more for their luggage to fly abroad than its owner, potentially more than doubling the cost of flying for those unable to pack light. Only those with capsule wardrobes will escape the new fees because Ryanair forces any bag weighing more than 10kg to be checked in. The Irish airline also has a strict policy about what it will allow passengers to carry on board. Ski boots, for example, must travel in the hold, no matter how much they weigh.

Alongside the new baggage charges, the carrier announced yesterday that it was taking the next step towards becoming a virtual airline by giving passengers the option of checking-in online.

It hopes the new regime will encourage people to carry hand baggage only, helping it to slash €30m (£20m), or 10 per cent, off its cost base.

Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's chief executive, said: "These changes will enable us to reduce our airport and handling costs across the network. We will require fewer and less expensive airport facilities such as airport check-in and baggage hall facilities. We will carry fewer bags making our aircraft lighter and improving our fuel consumption."

Well-organised travellers will only pay half the new fee, £2.50 per bag, if they pre-book their luggage a slot in the hold via Ryanair's website. They can check in heavier bags than under the existing arrangement as Ryanair has increased each passenger's total luggage allowance by 5kg to 30kg.

The fees, which will affect all passengers booking flights after 16 March, are applicable on each leg of a journey. To sweeten the blow, Ryanair said it would reduce its average fare - which stands at €28 - by 9 per cent, or £2.50. It claimed this would offset the higher cost of travelling for the 50 per cent of its passengers who travel with just one checked-in bag - provided they were savvy enough to book early. This leaves just one in four of its passengers paying more, it added.

The Irish carrier has beaten its arch rival easyJet in becoming the first no-frills airline to offer passengers the option of checking in online. EasyJet said this was something it was "considering" but ruled out a move to charge for baggage. "It doesn't encourage people to travel light because they have just upped their total baggage allowance," an easyJet spokesman said.

He attacked Ryanair's claim that it offered the most generous hand baggage allowance at 10kg, pointing out that easyJet has not restricted the weight of hand luggage since July 2004.

Not all of Ryanair's attempts to revolutionise air travel last the distance. It recently scrapped in-flight entertainment after trialling the service for a few months. Baggage handlers have been told the new luggage fees are just a trial and none will be axed for the first few months.