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Ryanair accused of deliberately assigning middle seats to passengers who don’t pay reservation fee

The Independent logo The Independent 23/05/2017 Simon Calder
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Ryanair has been accused of deliberately assigning passengers who choose not to pay for reserved seating to middle seats — and separating couples and groups. Travellers say the budget airline has abruptly changed its policy.

Previously when passengers were travelling together but preferred not to pay for specific seats, they were generally allocated seats together.

The Independent was first made aware of the apparent change by Chris Jones, who was flying from Stansted to Aarhus on 18 May with his wife.

“The allocated seats we were given were in rows 8 and 32. We couldn't have been further apart! I checked the seating on the flight. At the time of my check in there were more than 60 per cent of the seats still available for purchase.

"Are Ryanair allowed to do this? It appears to be a cynical attempt by the airline to make you buy a seat.”

Patrick Gover was in a group of 20 golfers flying to Spain with Ryanair. “Three of the group had paid for extra legroom,” he told The Independent, “but the other 17 have each been allocated the middle seat of three.

“No doubt that the airline will argue that these are the ‘least desirable’ seats but the cynic in me thinks that they are actually pushing people towards paying the seat-preference supplement.”

Before his flight from Stansted to Carcassonne, John Foskett checked in as normal. “Up to now when a booking is made for two people, adjacent seats have been allocated. This time we have been allocated middle seats towards the back and front of the plane, obviously some distance from each other. The seating plan still shows a large number of available pairs seats including those adjacent to those we have been allocated.

“I did an online chat with Ryanair and was advised that we could purchase an adjacent seat which I said was unacceptable, due to their previous policy of allocating adjacent seats as the norm.”

Don MacKenzie flew in a group of four from Stansted to Zadar in Croatia on Ryanair. “On the way out, we were assigned seats alongside each other. However when we booked in on the return flight we were all given random seat places which were all over the aircraft, but coincidentally were only in seats B or E.”

These are the middle seats in each group of three on either side of the cabin. 

“This consequently meant that quite a few groups were not sitting in the seats allocated to them, as a lot of swapping between passengers occurred.

“Is this a tactic by Ryanair to charge more per seat? In their defence the flights were only about £50 each way.”

A spokesperson for Ryanair refuted the suggestion that passengers are being specifically assigned the middle seat, saying: “Customers who do not wish to purchase a seat are randomly allocated a seat, free of charge. Customers can purchase their preferred allocated seat from just €2 (£1.72).”

While the Civil Aviation Authority requires children to be seated close to parents, it makes no stipulation for couples or groups of adults.

Last October, Ryanair reduced the check-in window for passengers who prefer not to pay for seat assignments from a week to four days.

Its rival, easyJet, aims to assign seats to couples and groups together where possible, even if they have not paid for seating.

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