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Ryanair's Outrageous Boarding Pass Fee: US Airlines Next?

Friday, 24 Aug 2012 | 11:02 AM ET

If you hate getting nickel and dimed for add-on fees when flying, you might want to carefully read the terms and conditions if a flight on Ryanair is in your future.

AP

Budget Irish airline Ryanair is known for its elaborate list of fees above and beyond the cheap airfares it advertises. One fee, the Airport Boarding Card Re-Issue Fee, is charged to any passenger who hasn't printed their boarding pass in advance at home. The charge: 60 euro (about $75) for the flimsy piece of paper generated by agents at an airport check-in desk.

Spirit Airlines is so far the only U.S. carrier to charge a fee for having agents print your boarding pass at the airport. But at $5 per person, it's a far cry from the amount Ryanair charges. Will a boarding pass fee spread to other U.S. airlines?

A family traveling from Spain to England on Ryanair earlier this month was charged a total of 300 euro (about $370) when they neglected to print the boarding passes, instead saving the PDFs to their phone thinking it would suffice. The family posted their outrage on Ryanair's Facebook page and subsequently received more than 354,000 "likes" in a matter of days. But Ryanair stands by its policy as shown on their website and isn't refunding the fee.

In an email to CNBC.com Friday, Ryanair spokeswoman Robin Kiely says, "As is clearly outlined in the terms and conditions for every Ryanair passenger, Mrs. McLeod agreed at the time of booking she and her fellow passengers would check-in online and print their boarding cards before arriving at their departure airport, and she also accepted and agreed that if she failed to do so then she would pay our boarding card re-issue penalty." Kiely adds Ryanair has no plans to allow PDFs or mobile boarding passes in the future.

"Though Ryanair clearly states it charges fees for agent assistance, the airline is clearly in the wrong here," says industry analyst Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, in an email to CNBC.com.

"It appears that Ryanair did not clearly communicate to the traveler that the downloaded document was not a boarding pass," Harteveldt says. "Ryanair makes things worse by not offering airport kiosks that passengers can use if they've forgotten their boarding pass."

Harteveldt points out that more than 80 percent of travelers choose some type of self-service check-in, whether it be online, at airport kiosks or on mobile devices. The difference in the U.S. is that most airlines offer the printing of boarding passes at airport kiosks for free (Spirit charges $2 per person), or accept digital boarding passes saved on a mobile device.

He does elaborate, however, that as people who use agents are a shrinking minority, he wouldn't be surprised if more airlines in the U.S. eventually begin charging fees for agent check-in services. Elite frequent flier members, international travelers and full-fare passengers would likely be exempt from such fees.

What do you think? Is a fee to print a boarding pass directly with an agent fair in today's technology-driven society?

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