Millions of people who have already paid in full for their summer flights to Spain have been warned they may have to pay a surcharge before they are allowed on board.
Ryanair - which is now the leading airline between the UK and Spain – has sent emails to “millions” of passengers booked to fly from Spanish airports about possible airport fee increases.
The message says “We may be forced to debit passengers for any government imposed increases in airport charges prior to your travel date”, and cites its rule that says “If any such tax, fee or charge is introduced or increased after your reservation has been made you will be obliged to pay it (or any increase) prior to departure”.
Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said the warning arose from a draft budget presented by the Spanish government, with what he called the “ludicrous suggestion” that charges at the two main airports in Madrid and Barcelona could soar:
“It’s a bit uncertain at the moment but it looks like the Spanish government are going to double the airport fees overnight the day the budget gets passed. We have already taken a number of millions of bookings for passengers intending to travel to these airports this summer and if they double the taxes we will be sending them a bill for the increase taxes or debiting their debit and credit cards”.
There is no certainty that any increase in airport charges will take place, but Richard Taylor of the Civil Aviation Authority said it was a commercial decision to pass any such rise on: “It is up to the airline to choose where the money comes from; whether this is taking money from the customer or footing the bill themselves. They are legally within their rights to take money from customers who have already paid.”
Mr O’Leary said passengers who object would get a full refund: “You can of course reject that additional payment, cancel your flight and then not fly with us if you so wish. But we’re not going to be funding the Spanish government’s taxes.”
British Airways – which flies from London to both Madrid and Barcelona - said it would absorb any increase, as it did on existing bookings when Air Passenger Duty was doubled.
*Ryanair is likely to ground up to 80 planes next winter, to save on fuel and staff costs, but will be watching for the failure of other airlines. “A lot depends on how many more airlines go bankrupt and where,” said Michael O’Leary. “When Spanair went bust down in Barcelona we moved 10 extra aircraft into Barcelona within two weeks. When Maley went bust in late February we moved a total of I think five aircraft into Budapest airport and took advantage of those opportunities. And I think we’ll do the same again next winter.”
Ryanair’s optional charges
Priority boarding - £5
Admin fee for "costs associated with Ryanair’s booking system" - £6
Reserved seating - £10
"Infant equipment" (eg booster seat) - £10
One 15kg bag, low season, booked in advance - £15-£20 (depending on destination)
One 15kg bag, low season, booked in advance - £25-£30
Second 15kg bag - up to £50
Musical instrument - £50
Flight change fee - £50
Oxygen reservation fee - £100
Name change fee - £110