Millions of passengers booked on Ryanair flights from today onwards are being warned that they can check-in only 48 hours before departure.
The Irish airline, which is the biggest budget carrier in Europe, is making life tougher for travellers who choose not to pay extra for assigned seating.
Passengers who arrive at the airport without having checked in online must pay a fee of £55 in the UK or €55 (£48) elsewhere.
Until two years ago, passengers could check in online up to a week before departure, which worked well for many people on seven-day holidays.
In 2016 Ryanair reduced the window for check in to just four days, saying the move was in response to “extensive customer feedback”.
Since May 2017, the airline has faced repeated criticism for assigning passengers travelling together seats far apart on the aircraft.
The airline responded by saying: “We are very happy to facilitate any customer who wants a free-of-charge random seat, but we are also going to do our best to facilitate customers who are willing to pay for a reserved seat.”
Earlier this year the Civil Aviation Authority announced an enquiry into airlines’ seating policies.
The Ryanair check-in window has now narrowed sharply.
A Ryanair spokesperson told The Independent: “Online check-in (for those customers who don’t choose reserved seats) will be available from 48 hours to 2 hours pre-departure for all flights from Wednesday, 13th June.
“This is more than double the 24 hour check-in period operated by British Airways, Lufthansa, Norwegian and Iberia. This will give reserve seat customers more time to select their preferred seats prior to departure.”
At present a passenger with a Ryanair evening flight at, say, 8pm on a Friday can check in from Monday morning onwards. But the new policy means free check-in will not open until 8pm on Wednesday.
Alternatively, passengers can pay a fee – typically £4 per person, per flight – for assigned seating, and check in up to two months ahead of departure.
The change applies to existing reservations as well as new bookings.
Ryanair did offer passengers booked to travel from 13 June onwards, and who have not paid for reserved seating, the chance to cancel and request a full refund. But it had to be made within five days of the announcement (by 19 May) – “after which the change will be regarded as implicitly accepted“, says the airline.
Several passengers contacted The Independent to complain that Ryanair customer-service staff initially appeared unaware of the policy change and the refund option.
Joaquin Alfonso said: “The people that I spoke with insisted that this was a scam and not a real email from Ryanair and that it was not possible to ask for a refund.”
Jason Dew, who has two forward bookings with Ryanair, tweeted: “Spoke to CS [Customer Services] this morning twice, and had an online chat, both parties claim they know nothing of the changes!”
Ryanair said it was happy to investigate cases in which passengers believed they had been misinformed.
Other Ryanair passengers responded to the change in policy on social media.
Kara Newsome tweeted: “Ryanair I’m confused by your new check in rules. I now have to check in online between 48-2 hours before my flight. What happens when I’m on holiday and have no way of getting online or to a printer before my journey?”
A Ryanair spokesperson said: “Customers can check-in on the Ryanair app and download their boarding passes up to 2 hours before their flight, eliminating the need for printing out boarding passes.”
Gareth Bond tweeted: “Personally I don’t have any issue here & always happy with what I get with @Ryanair. It’s no different with any other airlines for seat reservation who charge much more. If you don’t like their rules don’t fly with them but I never see an empty plane.”