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Ryanair plane in Stansted: carry-on luggage price trap

Photo: Kevin Coombs/ REUTERS

The Spanish government has opened an investigation into seven low-cost airlines over their costs for carry-on baggage. It must be clarified whether it is not "abusive" and "unfair" to make travelers pay a surcharge for a service that is generally taken for granted, said the Ministry of Consumer Protection in Madrid on Wednesday.

The pricing policy of airlines such as Vueling, Wizzair and Ryanair suggests that the primary aim is to "gain high positions on online comparison portals," the ministry noted. In the end, the prices actually paid by the consumer were often significantly higher.

The proceedings are based on a complaint by the Spanish consumer protection organisation Facua. Facua reiterated that she considered the airlines' pricing policy to be illegal: "The Air Navigation Services Act stipulates that the air carrier is 'obliged to carry items and packages carried by the passenger free of charge as hand luggage in the cabin.'"

Since last year, the Spanish Ministry of Consumer Protection has had the option of imposing sanctions directly. The airlines now face penalties in the amount of "four to six times the unlawfully obtained profit".

In recent years, more and more airlines have begun to charge fees for carry-on baggage. Only a handbag or a small backpack is allowed free of charge. In 2019, the Italian competition authority had therefore imposed a three-million fine on Ryanair and a one-million fine on Wizzair. However, the fines were subsequently overturned by the courts.