Ryanair orders passenger with bag question to “shut up” — does she deserve a refund?

The Irish discount carrier Ryanair has a well-earned reputation for unapologetically burying its customers in fees, including charges for carrying their bags on board. It isn’t as well-known for its unfailingly polite defenses of its indefensible policies and their uneven implementation.

Yomna Nasr’s story probably won’t change your opinion of Ryanair. But after reading it, you may grudgingly give it points for its clever non-apologies.

Nasr was flying from Malaga back to the UK on Oct. 28 with her family when she was stopped for having an oversize carry-on bag. “We were subjected to a bitter confrontation and despicably racist remarks,” she says.

She’s asked Ryanair to refund the carry-on fee, but so far, it’s refused. She wants me to intervene on her behalf.

Let’s get a few details from her first:

My family and I were stopped just as we were about to board the plane, as our bag was apparently too large and was subject to additional charges.

I was suspicious as to why we were held, as fellow passengers walked past us with larger cabin bags. We believed this was somewhat unfair and thought it would be appropriate to ask why.

She instantly became hostile and refused to reason with us in a sensible manner. Matters became worse when she continued yelling, also screaming at my brother, telling him to “shut up.”

When Nasr asked to speak with a supervisor, she says the employee hid her name tag and threatened to call security. Then the Ryanair agent added, “It’s funny how foreigners like you come to our country to get a European passport,” according to Nasr.

She adds,

The ordeal left us contemplating as to how it was possible to be discriminately targeted and treated like barbarians by an established airline. My family and I can no longer fly free from institutional racism and abuse. I hope you can understand the seriousness of this matter, as I cannot trust flying with Ryanair in the foreseeable future.

Now, I wasn’t there when Nasr’s family boarded their flight in Malaga. Here are a few things I can say. Any Middle Eastern flyer is going to attract attention, for obvious reasons. And if those passengers are carrying oversize bags, then yes, they’ll probably be flagged.

It’s how those passengers are flagged that’s important. Telling a passenger to “shut up” and making remarks about their ethnicity and then hiding your nametag is not in the Ryanair employee manual. It can’t be.

Nasr sent an email to Ryanair describing the ordeal. Here’s how the airline responded (I’ve made a few edits for brevity):

I can confirm that a full internal investigation has been carried out with our airport handling agents whom were on duty at Malaga Airport on the 28/10/2012.

Our handling agents at Malaga Airport have completed written reports in relation to this particular incident.

Once again, on behalf of Ryanair, I do regret any difficulties that you and your travelling companions experienced at Malaga Airport. We regret if this incident caused you any upset or discomfort.

Following on from this, I wish to advise that as per our Terms and Conditions, each passenger (excluding infants) is permitted to carry one piece of cabin baggage on board.

Strictly one item of cabin baggage is permitted per passenger. Handbag, briefcase, laptops, shop purchases, camera etc. must be carried within your permitted 1 piece of cabin baggage.

The cabin baggage should weigh no more than 10kg and not exceed the maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm.

For the safety and convenience of all passengers, cabin baggage must fit underneath the seat or in the overhead compartment. We reserve the right to cancel your reservation without refund and to deny you boarding if you arrive at the boarding gate with more than one item of cabin baggage or if that item exceeds the maximum dimensions.

The agent at Malaga Airport has confirmed that your hand baggage exceeded the dimensions; as a result you were requested to pay the relevant fee and have your bag placed in the hold.

Unfortunately, some passengers take advantage of the generous 10kg hand luggage allowance that is permitted. Therefore it has been necessary for Ryanair to only allow one piece of hand luggage per passenger.

The baggage weighing scales at all the airports we serve are checked and calibrated by the relevant Government Department. Our handling agents are obliged to check the dimensions of hand baggage and apply the relevant fees in all circumstances where this allowance is exceeded. Our records confirm that the procedure taken in Malaga Airport on the 28/10/2012 was completed correctly.

Nonetheless, we regret that the strict baggage policy of Ryanair was not adhered to fully whilst you were travelling with Ryanair. As such, your comments have been forwarded to the Base Manager at Malaga Airport for their information and to ensure that all staff implement all Ryanair policies at all times.

Notwithstanding this, I wish to advise that Ryanair prides itself on the high standards of service and professionalism provided by our staff. We endeavour to maintain these high standards with regular retraining programmes, which focus on providing excellent service to our customers. Our key customer service objective is for all staff, whether from Ryanair or from a ground handling company, to provide customers with an excellent standard of service and professionalism.

We sincerely regret if you felt that this was not reflected to you on this occasion and as such have forwarded your comments onto our Ground Staff Manager at Malaga Airport for their review. Please note that Ryanair is a non-discriminatory company and we do regret if any offence was taken.

I wish to assure you that Ryanair’s main concern at all times is the safety of our passengers. If other passengers fail to comply with safety instructions and security regulations at the boarding gate, they will be denied boarding if they continue to obstruct other passengers boarding the aircraft.

Upon completion of this investigation, I am therefore unable to accede to your request for a refund on this occasion.

Once again, please accept our sincere apologies and we hope despite your dissatisfaction on this occasion, that you will afford us the opportunity to welcome you on board another Ryanair flight in the future.

There are a few issues here. First is the baggage fee. Nasr doesn’t seem to be suggesting that her bag was not oversized — only that other passengers in Malaga were being allowed on the flight with large bags, too. It would be difficult to ask Ryanair to refund the baggage fees because others weren’t being charged.

Second, the treatment of Nasr’s family. No excuse for that, even if it is Ryanair. Hiding the name tag and threatening to call security? That’s just out of line, and the airline’s response simply glossed over it. While I kind of admire Ryanair’s writing chops, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a less sincere apology.

Ryanair has never responded to any of my questions, and I’m not sure if it will start with this one. But if I get involved, what should I ask for? A better apology?

The bigger problem isn’t the crewmember or Nasr’s baggage — it’s the wrongheaded luggage policy that forced this confrontation.

Should I mediate Yomna Nasr's case with Ryanair?

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  • I think without some kind of evidence (videotape, corroboration by other passengers, etc.) it’s a he said / she said scenario. And her statement, “My family and I can no longer fly free from institutional racism and abuse”, is a bit over the top which unfortunately, tipped me over to the “do not mediate” camp. If it was about the racism, she should be aiming to have the employee retrained / disciplined instead of asking for a refund of the fee…

  • Andre_K_FL

    Well considering this airline’s CEO has previously used the F-bomb towards customers: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/05/ryanair-ceo-michael-oleary-calls-passengers-idiots_n_1857143.html

    And is now threatening a website dedicated to aviation safety for refusal to give in to censorship demands regarding a story:

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all by what this family went through.

  • I’ve received similar threats on this website. Fortunately, American law protects electronic publishers against any comments made by readers. Also, i have two excellent lawyers and a team of moderators who make sure I’m taken care of.

  • JenniferFinger

    I voted yes, but that assumes that there is evidence that proves the case one way or the other. If there is, and it favors Nasr’s side of the story, I think that at the least she is owed a sincere apology by Ryanair for its employee’s rudeness and discrimination, and a refund for the bag check fee if other passengers weren’t being charged it. But that’s the crux: Ryanair hasn’t been forthcoming about whether or not such evidence exists, and you probably can’t even get the name of the employee in question if she really did successfully conceal it.

  • BillCCC

    I voted no since this will only turn into we said/they said with no actual proof from either side. Unless there is a recording of this incident then steer clear.

  • SoBeSparky

    When you fly Ryanair, or Spirit in the U.S., you are a commodity, something filling the plane. If you want to fly cheap, then you must expect cheap. You want to be even cheaper and sneak aboard a bag for which you should pay? And then you want them to be nice about it?

    As Christopher says elsewhere today, lower your expectations. What do you expect? Human dignity? Ha! Cut-rate carriers are the lowest common denominator. The public asked for no-frills airlines and it got them with an entry-level, low-paid staff. These people are hired to generate revenue, not to welcome you aboard.

  • Kathleen Proud Keyte

    You get what you pay for. What do people expect from an airline (and I use that term loosely) that want to charge you for using the toilet or are trying to find ways of having people fly standing up to incease capacity?

  • john4868

    I’m sorry but this is a little like someone going to Dicks Last Resort or Ed Debevics and being mad that the wait staff was rude to them. RyanAir, starting with their CEO, publicly acknowledges that passengers are, in fact, self-loading cargo. Reading between the lines and what she didn’t say, I think the OP attempted to bring a bag that was too big on to the flight. She then attempted to pull the ethnicity card which didn’t work (which actually is shocking for Europe). Do I doubt that the contractor for RyanAir was rude, nope. Do I think there’s anything to gain from mediation, nope. RyanAir’s statement can be boiled down to, “You were wrong. We caught you. Our local manager will talk to the employee.” In Europe they’re not going to tell you what happened to the employee (they may have gotten an award for catching someone trying to sneak a bag on) and RyanAir isn’t going to refund a charge they were correct in assessing.

  • sffilk

    You could try mediating with Ryanair, but considering how cheap the company is, I think you’ll get nowhere with it.

  • Miami510

    I voted no.

    But I’m tempted to facetiously suggest such remedies as:

    $100 for each letter is the phrase: SHUT UP, that’s $600 for the Mrs. Nasr…

    or perhaps $100 for each letter in YOMNA NASR; that’s $900.

    Perhaps there should be a United Nations constitutional amendment that every person is guaranteed civility, courtesy, respect and gracious treatment.

    Seriously, not mediating this claim is not the same as doing nothing. Multiply the readership X 2 and then assuming that each person in the household, who hears this story will tell 4 people, will result in a proper public relations disaster for Ryanair. Cheap is cheap, as one reader commented. With rare exception, it also means bare bones amenities which includes courtesy.

  • That’s what I’m afraid of.

  • cjr001

    Ryanair’s true colors will shine through every time.

    As for the treatment, no, we don’t have proof, but I find it believable. I’ve got a Hindu Indian friend who dealt with some BS treatment after 9/11. He looks about as Indian as they come, yet that matters little to bigots.

    And despite their economy being in the toilet, austerity measures, and mass emigration of Irish out of the country once again, there seems to be quite a few also immigrating to Ireland right now. If you read around, you can find that there’s plenty of push back to this. And with push back generally comes xenophobia, racism, bigotry, etc.

  • Blackadar

    I’m voting no, because what you’re be mediating isn’t a business decision but a personal dispute. There’s absolutely no call for that kind of behavior. With that said, the attendant isn’t going to admit it and given the comments of the President of Ryanair, there’s little use in pursuing any inquiry. It’s not like they’re going to come out and say “we have bigots on our staff, too bad”. They’ll just deny it (“we’ve investigated the claims and found they have no merit”) and without proof there’s no place to take it.

  • mdy2k1

    I voted “no,” if you wanted to be treated like a human being; you don’t fly Ryanair.

  • lorcha

    Chris, the only arrow in your quiver is negative publicity, and RyanAir could not possibly care less about negative publicity. They wear their poor customer service as a badge of honor, daring their customers to endure travel with the cheapest airline on the planet.

    Heck, you writing an article that is critical of them would probably be seen by them as a good thing. Free advertising!

  • JimDavisHouston

    I see this situation at least twice every month. Usually a person will take a standard size bag, stuff it until it’s about to burst, and then try to jam it in the overhead. Great pre-flight entertainment.
    I wouldn’t touch this case without at least a witness. In my experience, it’s rare that an Airline employee will threaten to call Security unless there’s a good reason. Pulling the “Race Card” is a last ditch effort when things don’t go someones way.

  • Mark Blei

    Chris, if you believe that the person was treated as rudely as she says she was, then i think you have a responsibility as an advocate to at least try to advocate despite the fact that you know it’s probably going to be useless. Let Rynair know that other people hear this story, and other people believe the story , and find their lack of apology disgusting, and not enough, especially if it was enforced on the clients because they were middle eastern. a racial comment is never acceptable. If you don’t believe the writers story then don’t attempt to mediate, but in the case when someones being racially abused, choosing not to mediate because it’s hopeless is like saying the racial abuse is ok. It’s not.

  • S E Tammela

    Mediate? With Ryanair? Are you kidding? Sorry… but it’s Ryanair. Surely Chris has better things to do than bash his head on a wall (which would be equally effective).

    If you choose to fly with an ultra-budget airline, you take it upon yourself to read and know the rules, and you also leave your “entitled princess” attitude at home. The whole thing could have been avoided if the customer had done those two things. There are rude and racist people all over the world, and while they shouldn’t do it, it won’t entitle anyone to compensation from an ultra-budget airline. Next time, put your bag into the frame at checkin, and make sure it fits, like everyone else did.

  • emanon256

    One time I heard a flight attendant refer to us passengers as “Self Loading Cargo”.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    “Any Middle Eastern flyer is going to attract attention, for obvious reasons.” Excuse me? Are you making excuses for the RyanAir employee’s racist comments?

    Just because jerks choose to vilify hundreds of millions of people they classify as “Middle Eastern” (whether the discriminated persons actually are from the Middle East), does not make it right nor obviously reasonable.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    So Ryanair and Spirit employees can scream and insult people because their flights are cheaper? No excuse for bad customer service.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    I expect customer service, not abuse. Low pay is no excuse for low behavior.

  • S E Tammela

    I have to agree. Outside of the USA, people aren’t continually thinking that Middle Eastern equals Terrorist. There are quite a few places in the western world where we see dozens of ladies in a headscarf (hijab) every single day.

  • Christina Conte

    I voted, “no,” and not because I doubt the OP’s story, but I know what Ryanair is like now. I used to love this airline, but they have completely changed, and not for the better. I agree with Dervin, the best thing to do is to choose NOT to fly these airlines (i.e. Ryanair and Spirit.) Also, as stated, it seems that her bag WAS oversized, therefore, she should have had to pay the fee. Move on to the next request…

  • If Ryanair has a “well-earned reputation” for, let’s say, lack of finesse in terms of customer relations, there is a “caveat emptor” component to flying with them.

  • I agree with you, but you have to pick your battles, ie. ones that have a chance of being won. What if Chris goes up to bat for the OP when the truth of the matter is that the incident never happened at all? If there’s proven misconduct, by all means, go after it. Otherwise, what’s to say who’s telling the (whole) truth here?

  • TonyA_says

    I voted NO for the sake of common sense.

  • TonyA_says

    This reminds me of the zamzam water case. Unless people begin recording these incidents then how can we really know what happened. How much is a Go Pro camera? :-)

  • sffilk

    Plus which, Mr. O’Leary will probably find a way to turn it to look like he’s in the right.

  • amystery726

    It is shameful that individuals be submitted to such verbal abuse and obvious racist comments. I’m not sure that the bag issue can be resolved, but the airlines has a serious problem if its staff is comprised of such bigoted and narrow-minded human beings.

  • Lindabator

    hahaha!!! never heard that one before – but SO TRUE!

  • IGoEverywhere

    I surely would like to see a tape of what really happened. As always, in a discussion of this nature, it has to have a racial side of the story. I, for one, do not believe that it happened the way that Nasr told the story. Cheap airlines do draw sheap clients, and they bicker over 1 ounce or 1 inch overage. Ryan air does a good job to move cattle cars full of people to very weird city locations. I can’t wait to see the followup from them.

  • Thomas Ralph

    Utter waste of time mediating or doing anything. Ryanair will not back down and European privacy laws prevent them from saying what action if any was taken against the staff member. Move on and choose a better airline next time,

  • dourdan

    evidence– i was looking to see if someone already said it.

    because obviously if the gate attendant was asked to write up a report she would NEVER say “and then i called them several racist slurs…..”

    so how does Ryanair know that the OP is not maiking all this up to get a freebie.

  • bodega3

    You are correct that there is no excuse for bad customer service. However you get what you paid for and from these budget carriers, all you are paying for is getting from point A to point B. NOTHING else!

  • I want one of those! Last time I checked the cheapest one was less than $200, I think… Maybe all the commenters here can take up a collection and gift me one. Thank you all in advance! I need to be prepared for my next TSA / RyanAir / zamzam incident!

  • Chris Johnson

    I didn’t vote either way because while there is NO excuse for the racist comments, no matter how cheap the tickets were, nor did I understand why other passengers with larger bags were being let through and not being charged, mediation with Ryanair will go absolutely nowhere. It is like talking to a brick wall. This is a case that should be mediated because Ms. Nar didn’t have any sense of entitlement or expect top-level treatment at all, she just wanted to be treated like everyone else getting on the plane and also did not need the added bonus commentary about where she was getting her passport from the ignorant and bone-headed employee. But Ryanair will do nothing beyond what they’ve already done so it is probably a lost cause. It’s just too bad there weren’t any eyewitnesses to this whole episode coming forward, or that the local press didn’t take any interest in what happened (if she contacted them). I will suggest one thing however – I’m not all familiar with the process in the UK or Ireland, but I have heard of people filing small claims cases (or the equivalent thereof in the UK or Ireland) against the company all the time, and the company being fairly quick to settle – it’s like they expect it to happen, play the law of averages and then pay up for the relatively small numbers of people who do call their bluff in court. I don’t know if she has the time to do something like this though, but it sounds like it’s worth a try.

    As a side note, you couldn’t pay me to fly Ryanair after all the stories I’ve heard about them. So, having never flown them, they have yet to disappoint me.

  • I voted no because this is a waste of time. RyanAir is a crappy airline with crappy service, and if a company has that attitude it trickles down to the employees. I don’t know if she’s playing the race card. It appears from the statement, “My family and I can no longer fly free from institutional racism and abuse,” that she may be a little touchy in this area. She also all but admits her bag was oversized. Which to me reads; I knew my bag was oversized but I’m going to try and get it on anyway and I hope they don’t notice. Well…they noticed, and she got pissed. She should pay and her recourse is not to fly RyanAir again.

  • y_p_w

    I recently flew a fairly short-haul flight. No – our carry-ons weren’t more than the standard 21″ upright size that meets the requirement, nor did they weigh more than 10 kg. However, it’s interesting seeing how absolutely full the overhead bins are these days. My wife thought she had enough time to get something even though we had a decent boarding section. By the time we got in line and got on board, everything was completely full. Since our bags were clearly carry-on sized, they checked them in for free.

    Even though RyanAir does charge for carry-on, I’m thinking a lot of people will be trying to get as much in as possible to avoid even higher check-in fees. The only people who really save are those who can pack everything into a large laptop bag. I could probably do that for an overnight flight in the summer.

  • TonyA_says

    This is not discrimination, this might just be bounty hunting. Read http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2061349/Bounty-hunters-airport-Baggage-staff-50p-bonus-piece-Ryanair-hand-luggage-wont-fit.html

    Airport workers are being paid bonuses to crack down on travellers with bulky hand luggage.
    They get £5 for every ten passengers they can ask to pay to check in bags deemed too big to carry on to aircraft.

  • TonyA_says

    James, you might want to consider that so many of the airport staff you see actually DO NOT WORK FOR THE AIRLINES THEMSELVES. In many countries, Swissport, Servisair, Menzies and other contractors do the airport work for many airlines.

    It is also well known that Ryanair’s CABIN CREW are trained by contractors and the trainees PAY “TUITION” to be trained.

    That said, who will discipline who?


  • Michael__K

    The “foreigners like you” comment (if accurate) is what was discriminatory.

    BTW, bounty money was left on the table if it’s true that “fellow passengers walked past us with larger cabin bags.”

  • TonyA_says

    Michael, I have to disagree a little bit because I want to make a distinction. The comment is bigoted. If the passenger was (singled out) targeted for charging because of their race or religion then that action was discriminatory. There is really no proof of the latter. She admitted having an over-sized carry on.

    You know Ryanair has a weird VISA check in Europe http://www.ryanair.com/en/questions/non-eu-eea-passengers-document-check-requirements-for-online-check-in
    It has been used deny boarding passengers without “proper” documents. Maybe the bigoted comment was mentioned because of this.

    Read some comments here http://www.ihateryanair.org/ryanair-visa-check-scam/

  • johnb78

    The ground staff member will have been Spanish rather than Irish, but the same point applies.

  • TonyA_says

    Most probably OUTSOURCED and not employees.
    As a company, I do not believe RyanAir discriminates against Muslims (religion) or Arabs (race).
    Please note that the Chairman of the Board has “traveled to Cairo, Egypt, to study Islamic Legal Jurisprudence and Law, and became proficient in various Islamic legal cliques developing a near-native fluency in Modern Standard Arabic”, according to wikipedia

  • Michael__K

    Discrimination (in the dictionary sense) isn’t just about the quantifiable (like bag charges). If the passenger was subject to a more hostile environment on the basis of their perceived national origin then that would be discrimination too.

    Thanks for the links about the Visa checks. More reason to believe that the fish rots from the head down in the case of Ryanair…

  • TonyA_says

    I do not believe there is a hostile environment here.
    The airport staff (outsourced) is reportedly given no more than £5 a week, so the quota is 10 oversized carryons. So there is no incentive to catch a lot more of passengers. Cannot see why they have to target a certain race. Maybe her carryon was just too large and obvious?
    As far as discrimination in Spain by Ryanair, do you remember the case when they tried to charge a carryon fee from one belgian student? They had a mutiny.
    So in a way this shows they catch non Muslims or Arabs, too.

  • TonyA_says

    Here’s a nice article from a travel-writer who got screwed by the baggage gestapo. Enjoy. http://www.thetravellingeditor.com/ryanair-rant/

  • Bill___A

    If there was a discrimination issue, it should be dealt with through the appropriate authorities I see many cased of people boarding U.S. based air lines where their bags were of legal size but put in the hold because passengers before them lugged on extra. All of the airlines need to ensure passengers conform to the cabin baggage regulations. This is an industry wide problem.

  • Roger

    As some contributors comment, “I would never fly Ryanair”, there are some of us who have no other choice. We use Ryanair from Limoges to London or to Nottingham, England – there are few other flights out of Limoges, and much as we hate having to use Ryanair, it works.

  • TravellingPrincess

    I love your column and believe you are an excellent consumer advocate. That being said, this sentence is just as racist as what the passenger experienced: “Any Middle Eastern flyer is going to attract attention, for obvious reasons.” I am disppointed you use this type of language at all but especially while discussing a case of blatant racism from an airline. Shameful.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    I disagree. I may not get handed a glass of champagne, but basic customer service and politeness should be the status quo for every airline.

  • TonyA_says

    Your expectation of common decency is right. But we need to question why so many passengers are willing to put up with the Ryanair model of customer service (or the lack thereof). I avoid both Ryanair and Walmart because I am not interested in their bargain. But that airline and store are always full. So it means that plenty of people believe they are ok and expect lousy service.

  • pauletteb

    The second an employee hides his/her nametag, you know there’s something fishy going on, but I’m willing to bet that action is unofficial policy to thwart complaints. There is NO price low enough to induce me to fly a sleazy operation like RyanAir (or Spirit for that matter).

  • Interesting! But if an “agent” gets enough complaints, I’m sure there’s some recourse, ie. RyanAir saying, “We don’t want to use this person”, even if s/he isn’t technically one of theirs, no?

  • TonyA_says

    That would be a rare scenario. Actually, RyanAir gives incentives (up to GBP 5 per week) for these contractors to catch over-sized carry ons. I suppose the airline is more interested discipline one who does not make more in fee income :-)
    I understand that the first time you will encounter a RyanAir person is already at the gate during boarding. I read that these FAs are also paid commission for selling food and drinks. So everything RyanAir does seems to be a money-making event.

    If you read the blogs, some NON-EU (yup American Military) passengers have been denied boarding because they forgot to have their boarding passes STAMPED FOR A RYAN AIR EXCLUSIVE VISA/DOCUMENT CHECK. These sorry folks had to purchase another ticket. So essentially, RyanAir confiscated their original ticket. Damn !
    You think with that kind of attitude they will care about what the OP is complaining about?

  • MarkKelling

    Here’s another view of the situation. Could it be that the OP’s group was one of the last to board and the overheads were full meaning they had to have their bags checked because there was no room and they would not fit under the seats? Those who continued to walk past them may have paid for reserved seats which may give them guaranteed carry on space.

    Still no excuse for the reported comments of the gate agent, but who knows how the OP actually reacted when told they would have to check their bags.

  • lopata7

    If nothing else is here good ole racism card never fails. I start to believe that whoever start screaming about racism abuse is in fact committing racist attack upon whoever is not going to listen, compensate, pay up or facilitate person claiming to be victim of such. I am growing tired of this “issue”.