In June, Huimin Ye missed her trip to Vienna to visit a friend.

Before heading to the airport, Ye noticed that she couldn’t check in online. In Cork Airport, she walked over to the Ryanair desk to check in and fetch her boarding pass, she said recently on a Zoom call.

She had her Schengen visa for Austria and her Irish Residence Permit, said Ye. But airline staff wouldn’t let her board for the first leg of her journey, a connecting flight to the United Kingdom.

They asked to see a transit visa, she says.

Immigrants from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) who hold residence permits issued by an EEA country or Switzerland don’t need transit visas for layovers in the UK, says its government website.

But the airline staff wouldn’t budge. “I really reminded her that I have an IRP as well, but she was a little bit impatient,” said Ye.

She just went home. “The whole trip was destroyed,” she says.

Ye is not alone. Other Chinese residents of Ireland with trips that passed through the UK on their way to final destinations in Europe say that Ryanair staff have also told them they need transit visas.

“I feel like they’re not familiar with visa policy and they’re not willing to help,” said Ye.

A spokesperson for Ryanair said that the company sincerely regretted that Ye was incorrectly refused travel on her flight, because a handling agent wrongly believed that they didn’t have the right document to transit.

A member of their customer service department would contact them about it, they said.

Right to pass

In the middle of May, Xiaoyu Wang lived out a variation of what Ye went through.

She checked in for her flight at a Ryanair desk at Dublin Airport with her residence permit and a Chinese passport with a Schengen visa printed inside.

She was travelling to Granada in Spain via Gatwick Airport. Her layover wasn’t more than two hours, she said.

“So, I give my passport and residency card,” said Wang, on Thursday morning, sitting at a café on Great Strand Street in the city centre.

Wang has permanent residency here, she said. But the Ryanair staffer didn’t pay much attention to her IRP and quickly asked to see a transit visa for the UK, she says.

“I said, ‘I don’t need that. I checked on the website to make sure because I’m going to Grenada. I’m not staying in the UK, you know’,” says Wang.

But she says the staffer said that’s not what the law says and that they’d worked there long enough to know that.

“I was very angry. My hands were shaking, but I knew I couldn’t back off because if I’d back off, she wouldn’t give me the boarding pass,” said Wang, resting her hands on her thighs.

At one point, when the Ryanair worker mentioned the UK’s border guards and how they’d say the same thing if she called them, Wang took her up on that offer.

“And they said that I’m allowed to go and so she gave me the boarding pass,” says Wang.

While printing it, she says, the staffer said Wang shouldn’t have been allowed to board, and they’d made an exception.

“That it was just for this time, and next time you will still need your transit visa for the UK,” Wang says.

Reporting it

When she touched down in Dublin a week later, Wang walked up to the Ryanair desk again. This time to raise a complaint.

“I thought I’m not in a hurry. This time, I have to raise a complaint to the manager,” says Wang.

She recorded the conversation on her phone.

In the recording, Wang says that she is a resident of Ireland and doesn’t need a transit visa, but a staffer had asked for one anyway, not paying attention to her residence permit.

“She just rejected me, and I don’t think it’s fair,” Wang says.

The staffer sides with their colleague.

“She was right,” they say. “When there is an exception, we need to ring them and get approval.”

In the end, they tell Wang that she can file an online complaint if she wants to. So she did. That was two months ago, Wang says, she hasn’t heard anything back since.

The Ryanair spokesperson said that Wang had travelled on the flight, but that a member of the customer services team would contact her about her claim.

Wang says she would’ve dropped it if the more senior staffer had just said they were sorry for causing her pain. But “she refused to give me an apology”, she says.

Later, on WeChat – a messaging app through which Chinese immigrants abroad stay in touch – Wang read other accounts of people going through the same ordeal.

That worried her because so many people from China live in Ireland, she says. In 2022, almost 27,000 Chinese people lived in Ireland, according to the last census figures.

“I thought it should be made public,” says Wang.

Another hurdle

Ye, the woman who missed her flight to Vienna, asked for a refund.

Ryanair agreed to pay for her ticket from Ireland to Austria but refused to pay any extra compensation.

“While we sympathize with your view, we regret that our position as set out in our previous correspondence remains unaltered,” said an email from its customer support on 24 July.

Both Wang and Ye say it’s difficult enough for non-EEA immigrants to get a Schengen visa, and adding the headache and cost of applying for a UK transit visa to all that feels unfair.

“It’s not cheap,” Wang said.

Some European embassies in the city outsource Schengen visa services to companies like VFS Global and others, who ask for premium rates in exchange for faster appointments and home collection services.

This outsourcing makes Schengen visas less accessible to lower-income immigrants. Even when there’s no outsourcing, a shortage of appointments can mean paying third parties to buy free slots.

Wang says a friend had to pay €400 for a premium service to the company that oversees visas for the Spanish embassy in Dublin recently.

“Imagine, on top of that, you have to apply for a transit visa,” she says. A transit visa for the UK can be an extra €100 or so.

Immigrants who have Irish citizenship don’t, of course, have to deal with this.

But, because they’re not allowed by China to hold dual citizenship, a Chinese person would have to give up their Chinese citizenship to get an Irish passport.

Wang says she’s still torn about it. “It’s a big decision,” she said.

It’s not just people from China who are navigating such demands from airline staff in recent times.


Last summer, Ryanair asked South African citizens to take a quiz to prove their roots and so, the logic ran, to prove the authenticity of their passports. But the test came in Afrikaans only, which not all South Africans speak.

In April, Bolivian citizens travelling to study in Ireland reported undue scrutiny from Lufthansa and KLM staff, who questioned them about their plans for accommodation and barred them from boarding their flights, even though they don’t need a visa to travel to Ireland.

In both cases, airlines mentioned fears of fines from immigration authorities if the passengers allowed boarding are refused leave to land at their destinations.

The Council of Europe warned more than a decade ago that the threat of carrier liability and sanctions could transfer border-control duties to airline staff who aren’t trained in the job.

The biggest concern, it had said, is when airline staff stop asylum seekers from reaching safety. “Not everyone who fears torture or repression has the proper documents to travel, especially if he or she fears persecution from national authorities,” it had said.

Wang says she’s unsure why Ryanair is asking to see transit visas from Chinese residents trying to vacation in Europe.

But the ordeal takes a toll, she says. “If you want to stand up against them, it’s a lot of effort. You spend your emotions to do that.”

UPDATE: This article was updated at 9am on 26 July to include a statement sent by Ryanair.

Shamim Malekmian covers the immigration beat for Dublin Inquirer. Reach her at

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1 Comment

  1. Of course they are not familiar with the visa policy. Plus, they never want to learn the visa policy.

    Share my story here:

    I am a model holding a German residency card, and a UK short term type C visitor Visa. According to the Visa Waiver program between UK and Ireland, I’m eligible to fly from any city in Germany to Ireland if I have been to UK before on the same visa in the allowed time period. The details of this policy is here:

    However, the staff of Ryanair in Baden-Baden airport, Cologne – Bohn airport and Frankfurt- Hahn airport all refused me. I showed them the printed relevant policy, highlight the importance sentence in the policy, read through each policy with them and explained to them. Nobody care, they just refused me again and again. They told me it is impossible, definitely 100% impossible. They told me this is not the most updated policy and they do not know the most up-to-date policy. They told me they have called Irish immigration in their office, the Irish immigration officer say NO!

    Finally, I have cancelled my business trip, missed an very important forum in my model career.

    I’m wondering if all airport staff from any other airline company also have no idea about the visa policy. The I made a experiment in this May. I bought a direct flight ticket with Aer Lingus, (Departure :Frankfurt am Main , arrival :Dublin). Their staff read the printed policy, then made a call in front of me to Irish immigration office, then I was on boarded successfully! The call only tooks 3 mins. Then everything done. When I arrived in Dublin airport, the immigration officer in passport control window asked me 2 simple questions: what are you doing here? How long? Then they allowed me to enter Dublin. No trouble. Very friendly and fast. Totally different from what Ryanair staff told me in the previous experience.

    Today, I’m so excited to see the unprofessional of Ryanair staff has been reported finally. I am so happy that there are journalists who stand up for us. I’m also eager to see how will Ryanair improve themselves in the future. At least, they should train their staff how to read an English policy.

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