Ryanair Baggage Policy: UX Fail 101

Ryanair Baggage Policy: UX Fail 101

So recently, I have been doing a bit of travelling, both for business and personal travel. It’s always been a bit of an interesting experience for me, given I’m a UX Designer.

Why am I ranting about Ryanair though?

Take for example the average film student. They’re;

  • interested in films
  • love trips to the cinema
  • want to turn their passion into a job.

This seems like a really fair way to choose a career if you ask me – aren’t we always being told to ‘do something you love’?

Here’s the kicker. When a film student learns the intricacies of film making, unavoidably they are unable to watch a film without the knowledge of what type of shot is being used, why it’s been edited the way it has been and other such details which can ultimately mean the suspension of disbelief is forever changed.

The way I now understand life is altered because of my insight into user experience, and my passion for simplification and problem solving versus the superficiality of ‘mmm, but I like that colour’.

I’m not suggesting colour isn’t important, I’m just suggesting that solving a person’s problem is more important than having them like the colour.

What’s my issue with them?

Well, most things about booking a flight with Ryanair have been deliberately designed against the user. I am almost sure it’s no coincidence that certain things have been altered about their booking process in order that consequentially, the company profits will be positively affected.

Side thought: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in a bubble and I do realise this is how companies work. I have never once (intentionally) designed something which means that a company loses money. I design things that improve the users experience, thereby positively influencing the company. Ryanair seem not to subscribe to this notion, preferring instead to f**k everyone into submission.

More often than not, after booking a flight I’m honestly thinking ‘They’ll start charging for air next”.

I would love to do some emotional mapping against the booking process. Granted, I am one of the harshest critics because this is what I do for a living, but this will be felt to differing degrees.

Ryanair’s new baggage policy

Right, so have you heard of the new baggage policy at Ryanair? They’ve tweeted, blogged, put it on their homepage. This didn’t stop the utter confusion amongst my group of friends trying to book a fun filled getaway. What should be simple is made complex, and it’s not hard to see why;

You CANNOT bring: A second cabin bag

So again, this has my spidey-senses tingling. Why? Because…

  • People prefer to read bulleted lists over large paragraphs of text, even if that paragraph comes first
  • The image shows me one bag is okay, two are not, with easy to see green ticks and red crosses
  • The capitalised text highlight’s what I can do, and what I cannot do.

What confusion did this cause?

I mean, read on – this is a genuine excerpt from my whatsapp group.

Identities have been obscured for their own safety…

So how do my friends and I feel about this? Confused, yes. Pissed off? Definitely. As well as feeling ‘pushed‘ to pay for a seat, we feel duped for wanting to take some clothes on a 5 day break.

What did Ryanair say about this?

Ryanair’s Kenny Jacobs said  “Since we announced this new policy, we have had a positive reception from our customers. This new policy is fair, will speed up boarding and will elimate any risk of Ryanair flights being delayed because of too many bags being brought on board.”

Unfortunately this statement is as ridiculous as the spelling mistake of ‘eliminate’ making it’s way onto a companies’ live website, despite it having to pass through countless people before arriving there. Because not only has the signage given the wrong impression, so has the entire announcement. It’s not actually as bad as my mates think, and you can absolutely take two bags, except now, your wheely case is taken at boarding, and put in the hold.

This is reasonable. I get why the changes are happening. I’ve seen a fully grown man having an argument with check in staff because he had bought priority boarding, but arrived almost last. He was demanding they cram his wheely case onto the overfull plane because he had paid money. He petulantly announced it on the plane after his shouting and arguing had delayed take-off, thusly pointing himself out as the main issue. (I must also say as a side note, the ground staff and cabin crews’ dealing of this toffee-nosed-spunk-trumpet were exemplary.)

Even when I go through the booking process. Modal window – Red – Danger – Alert! Main call to action? PURCHASE NOW. Secondary call to action? I don’t want two bags on board – please note the negative language with a simple text link.

Image of one bag and a paragraph of text explaining the situation badly.
Hey – Im a modal window – I must be important!

So again, unless you sit up and pay attention, you’re going to absolutely miss the vital fact that you can still take your wheely case for free.

Now, I’m not saying I’ve never put the primary CTA as the action I want my user to take. That’s unfair. In a high pressure stressful (flight booking) situation, where all I’m looking for is reassurance, shouldn’t they be giving a fair choice? A transparent choice would be equal prominence and descriptions of each.

Just to make it super clear – here is an idea of what I mean by fair;

A comparison showing which is free and which is paid for
Just a thought

Gah. I want to give ’em a shake and tell them to behave themselves.

I bet it’s clearer on the metal bag sizer things at airports though eh Lucy?

A picture of the new cabin bag sizer at airports depicting confusing ticks crosses and bracketed text

See the brackets on the right side under the RED cross where it says Cabin Bag? It says ‘IN HOLD – NO FEE’ but you would be hard pushed to read it (aside from the poor image quality).

What else are Ryanair scamming us on?

Ryanair Check in Screenshot showing seat selection

Okay cool. What do you notice about this picture?

These are things I notice:

  1. I see the seat numbers noted here in the confirmation. Okay, fine. Did they need to be called out here? Not sure, but if you were trying to bleed more money out of me, I can see how that might need to be here.
  2. I see next to the seat numbers, they’ve taken the trouble to tell me that it’s (middle). Right, so in your “randomly allocated” seats, all four seats that have been “randomly allocated” are middle seats. Weird huh?
  3. Bold would usually be used to call attention to something important . We read bold differently to other copy. There is definite emphasis here on the “You’re sitting apart. Would you prefer to sit together?”
  4. The blue call to action is almost as prominent as the ‘done’ call to action. I know I waffled on earlier about colour not being AS important..but yeah – this is an issue for those that neglect to pay attention.

When I chose to book for more than one person, it means I’m going with them. By the very act of what I’m doing, Ryanair know that I am travelling with another person. AKA ‘together’. Why then, would they “randomly allocate” seats which sit us in the middle, which automatically mean 8 other people (either side, for both journeys) sit apart as well?

I’m not even being selfish here, say I’m booking as a family. That’s what tends to happen isn’t it? Families go on holiday together don’t they!? Imagine I book for 5 people, 2 adults and 3 kids, the system forcibly prevents me from looking after my children. Fine – you know what? With 3 kids, I could probably use the break, but also, can I put that on a random passenger, no wait, 6 other people? My extreme British-politeness streak probably prevent’s me from this, so I’m forced to pay €6.86 per person I want to change.

Avoid the middle one? Why – because your system chose it for me?

Thing is, I know how these things work. Your game is up. I see you. Defaulting things, bolding things, ‘randomly allocated’ and relying on the behavioural traits of families, couples and god forbid, people wanting to travel together or take a f**king bag. So yes, you know what? When we all checked these flights on SkyScanner, your prices probably were beating that other airline. However, since we’re having to ‘add on’ all these extras which were once a given (even still are with other airlines who fill up seats as they are checked in), it completely degrades the experience. I’m left with another bitter pill to swallow because I wanted to pay on a piece of plastic rather than simply carrier pigeon the money to you.


It’s annoying. Not really because they ‘changed their policy’, not really because I can’t sit next to my partner on a flight, but the fact they are using black hat UX. Experience Design that counts on apathy, disillusionment, loss aversion and confusion to make money out of the general population. It’s on the wrong side of moral for me, because whilst we know these principles exist, hell, look at the pictures, bullets and outgoing links I’ve written in this blog post? It’s overstepped the mark. Massively. Like, ripping-families-off massively.

  • Someone had to approve the piece of code which randomly generates middle seat assignment
  • They knew this would be the result, in the interests of making money
  • Every sign, baggage sizer, modal window, advert and poorly spelled press release was signed off and agreed.

For me, this means I write a post and get it out my system, hope that others will read it too and possibly be just as annoyed, not use Ryanair, and remember this when choosing who to fly with next.

For not me, (and you’re probably happy about that) I am confused, annoyed and frustrated before I even get to the airport. Is that really what they want?