Comiso, Sicily, Italy: Passengers Boarding Ryanair on Tarmac
Credit: Jann Huizenga/Getty Images

Budget airlines Ryanair and Wizz Air are currently engaged in a legal battle in Italy to determine whether or not it is “misleading” to charge passengers for their carry-on luggage.

Italian competition watchdog Antitrust opened an inquiry into the two carriers in September to determine whether or not the ultra-low prices that the airlines advertised could be considered a price distortion, as hand luggage is “an essential element of transport.”

Both Ryanair and Wizz Air independently changed their baggage policies last year. Passengers were basically limited to only a small handbag that could fit underneath the seat in front of them.

Antitrust said in a statement that having to pay more for hand luggage “provides a false representation of the real ticket price and spoils the comparison with the rates of other companies, misleading the consumer.”

In a statement, a Ryanair spokesperson responded, “We look forward to cooperating with this Italian inquiry. All Ryanair customers are free to bring one piece of carry-on bag on board. But no airline customer has a right to unlimited carry-on bags.”

In February, the Italian courts decided that the baggage fees constituted unfair pricing and fined the airlines a combined total of about $4.48 million (€4 million). The airlines are now fighting the decision and last week, Italian courts agreed to suspend the fine, pending a new inquiry. Both airlines will continue with their current baggage policy until a new decision is reached (or the previous decision is upheld).

Regardless of what happens with the decision, policymakers are investigating ever-shrinking airline baggage allowances. Only time will tell whether or not these types of inquiries will reach U.S. airlines and their “basic economy” fares.

Passengers who are flying a budget airline should search for baggage policies before buying their ticket to ensure that they are actually getting the best deal. A mainstream airline with a higher ticket price could actually end up being cheaper than a budget service after passengers consider fees paid for baggage and meal service.