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Budget Airlines Face Investigation for Separating Flyers

Budget Airlines Face Investigation for Separating Flyers
Joe Cortez

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.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (11)


  1. jjmoore

    February 5, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    Why can’t regulations be passed REQUIRING pax to purchase seating assignments when a minor is traveling? This would alleviate the issue altogether.

  2. htb

    February 6, 2018 at 10:56 am

    Why can’t regulation be passed requiring airlines to seat passengers on the same itinerary to be seated together when a minor is travelling? That’s still a step down from asking for free seat reservations for these passengers.
    But why requiring to be on the same itinerary? These get split regularly for a number of reasons.Or the tickets are bought separately for a number of reasons.

  3. GrnMtnMan

    February 8, 2018 at 4:21 am

    The U.S. passed legislation requiring airlines to sit minors near parents. Obama signed it but with a new administration, it hasn’t been implemented.

  4. Bobberjet


    February 8, 2018 at 5:40 am

    Aren’t airlines already required to seat families with minor children together?

  5. Loren Pechtel

    February 8, 2018 at 8:07 am

    “Assigned randomly” is splitting them up!

  6. drphun

    February 8, 2018 at 8:58 am

    To some extent, not buying an advance seat is the same as buying a middle seat and there just are not going to be 3 middle seats together. Is this soem sort of mama bear entitlement, expecting that if you are flying with a minor you should get a window seat for the minor without paying?

  7. Morgacj2004

    February 8, 2018 at 9:11 am

    Why can’t legislation be passed that airlines no longer be allowed to charge passengers for advance seat assignment. Enough already with all of these damm fees.

  8. slomike

    February 8, 2018 at 9:51 am

    It appears that some people believe it is more important to seat people with their friends/family than to honor the seat selections of those who selected their seats first.

  9. BrisbanePE

    February 8, 2018 at 4:27 pm

    If you’re all on one itinerary then you should be “randomly assigned” a group of seats. It’s one thing to pay extra to select a particular type of seat (front, bulkhead, window) but a completely different thing to be happy with any kind of seat as long as you’re with your travelling partners.

  10. JBS75

    February 8, 2018 at 11:52 pm

    It is quite simple. Ask the question- “What would happen in the case of an emergency?” Would a parent leave a child? Would anyone leave their partner? If either is thought not, then it would disrupt any evacuation. It is a SAFETY issue.

  11. FortHay

    February 11, 2018 at 12:52 am

    The insidious practice of fishing for a few extra bucks is everywhere. On a recent (Feb 18) long haul AA flight they tried to screw me out of my seat. I had purchased the tix 5 months prior and promptly called AA to secure aisle seats. All seemed well as my AA reservation reflected my chosen assignment. A few days prior to the return flight, I noticed that they had willy nilly changed my seat, to an interior one, naturally. When attempting to change this on-line, I now see no more aisle seats available to me for free. When I check in at the airport with the partner airline (TAM), the agent tells me she will probably not be able to access AA’s seat map (what kind of ludicrous code sharing is that?), but, lo and behold, she managed and issues me a boarding pass with an aisle seat. When I arrive in GRU for boarding the AA flight, the boarding pass gets me through security screening just fine, but once at the gate, a bunch of passengers get called to the desk to have their boarding passes re-issued. They tried this with me, but I put up a fight and they kept me on the aisle. This sort of thing is getting ridiculous. I do not mind purchasing passage when the rules are clear and transparent up front, the way, say, WOW does it, but this sort of behind the scenes random after the fact manipulation is dishonest.

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