I have checked in online for my Ryan flight from Malaga to Glasgow and have received a prompt saying "this is not a boarding card Go to ticket desk for visa/document check & boarding card." I have heard other passengers having done this and being told they had to queue first at the check-in counter, which makes no sense. Can someone clarify this?
"this is not a boarding card Go to ticket desk for visa/document check & boarding card."
It means exactly what it says. Airlines are required to check your documentation for entry into the destination country. Often that can't be done online but must be done by a human at the counter. Rules and process vary from flight to flight, airline to airline, airport to airport, country to country, sometimes even from day to day, etc.
The check in agent at the airport will look at your passport/visa etc. and if everything is on order, they will issue the actual boarding pass.
We have seen many questions and varied answers on this topic: Ryanair seem to be quite inconsistent in how they perform those checks, and it apparently varies from one airport to the next (and/or depending on the destination or over time), probably based on the policies of their local agents.
Sometimes it happens at the check-in desk, sometimes at ticketing, sometimes you need to go to check-in then ticketing then check-in again, sometimes just ticketing then check-in, and there are probably other possible combinations (Ryanair are pretty creative).
What I would recommend:
Make sure you have printed the “boarding pass which is not a boarding pass” before leaving for the airport. They will need something to stamp/sign, and only paper works for that, not a PDF on your mobile. There’s a possibility they will say “no we can’t stamp that, you need to go to check-in to get a boarding pass so we can stamp it”, of course.
Of course, make sure you have all the necessary paperwork (passport, PR card, visa, etc.). If you are in any vaguely unusual/edge situation, make sure you have a printout of the rules applicable to your case, from both the UK government website and from Timatic, Traveldoc or the IATA Travel Centre.
Arrive at the airport early. Really. 3h before departure is probably a good target. In the worst case, you must be prepared to queue up to 4 times (twice at check-in and twice at ticketing), in addition to security, gate, etc. Ryanair won’t care for a minute if you miss your flight, and they won’t refund or rebook you.
If there is any Ryanair-related staff doing any kind of filtering or orientation at the beginning of either queue (check-in or ticketing) or elsewhere, ask them where you should go first. Or check for any signage (it may be a small piece of paper with a hand-written note behind the window of the ticketing desk).
Otherwise, do what the document says: go to the ticketing desk first.
Be prepared to be given the run around to go to check-in first, then back to ticketing, then back to check-in.
Be ready to fork out some money for whatever reason Ryanair decide they need to charge you for. Have both cash and cards ready.
This answer for the same trip (Malaga -> Glasgow) back in 2021 indicates check-in first, then ticketing. It’s anyone’s guess if this is still the current process. You may want to get in touch with Ryanair to see what they say.