Low-cost carriers are notorious for splitting up flyers on the same itinerary and seating them rows away from one another unless they pay for advance seating. Now those same airlines are facing an investigation by British aviation authorities over whether or not it is legal to separate groups when they don’t pay to select their seats.
Low-cost carriers like EasyJet, Jet2 and Ryanair could be forced to change their policies as the result of an investigation by Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The Telegraph reports that consumer complaints are leading to a look into seating policies among international carriers.
A study by the CAA and YouGov revealed low-cost carriers were among the worst offenders for splitting up individuals on the same itinerary. On Ryanair, just over one in three groups were split up during seat assignments, while at least 15 percent of groups were split aboard Jet2 and EasyJet. But the problem isn’t isolated to the cheapest tickets: One in five groups were split up when flying Emirates, while similar numbers were reported on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
When groups are split apart, the potential exists for incidents to happen between seatmates. In 2015, a flyer stood accused of inappropriately touching a three-year-old child who was separated from her family on a standby ticket. Although the charges were ultimately dropped, proponents of seating regulations say these problems can be reduced through forcing airlines to keep groups on the same itinerary together – with legislators going so far as to try and introduce it into law in 2016.
Low-cost carriers claim that the problem doesn’t exist with separating flyers, but how seats are assigned. In a 2017 interview, Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said that passengers weren’t intentionally being seated apart, but that the algorithm randomly assigned seats to all flyers. Therefore, if families or groups wanted to sit together, they would be forced to reserve seats at an extra fee. The policy was extended as an additional purchase to United Airlines’ basic economy earlier this year.
The investigation hopes to determine if airlines’ advance seat selection charges are “fair and transparent” on their websites. A study by the CAA discovered that around 60 percent of flyers paid for advance seat assignments because they thought they would be split up otherwise, while a study commissioned by the BBC found that Ryanair flyers had better odds of winning the lottery than being seated with those on the same itinerary.