Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Promise you won't tell lies' - Liveline's Joe Duffy takes on Michael O'Leary over Ryanair's controversial seating policy

Michael O'Leary has defended Ryanair's seating policy
Michael O'Leary has defended Ryanair's seating policy

Cillian Sherlock

Radio host Joe Duffy today criticised Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary when he came on air to defend Ryanair's seating policy.

The budget airline has come under fire for allegedly splitting up passengers who are travelling together if they don't pay extra to select their seat.

Speaking on Liveline on RTE Radio One this afternoon, Duffy said to O'Leary: "You promise this time that you're on Liveline you won't tell lies, Michael?

"You came on this programme four or five years ago about a group of passengers from Luton who had missed their flight and were saying it wasn't announced and hadn't been advertised on the board.

"You came up and said it was absolutely and completely untrue and accused them of being liars.

"We then got information from Luton Airport themselves which completely disproved everything you said."

The outspoken airline chief denied the accusations, saying "that information wasn't correct." 

Duffy then retorted: "So everyone else was lying?"

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary
Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary

Read More: 'Rubbish, didn't happen' - Michael O'Leary on reports girl (13) cried after being separated from family on Ryanair flight

O'Leary denied there was any recent change of policy or in the seat allocation algorithm and said the apparent rise in passengers being split up is due to more people buying reserved seating since the airline introduced the option two years ago.

He said: “The algorithm changes automatically every hour. We don’t go in and change the algorithm. It changes due to demand and because the number of reserved seats has changed.

“You are now increasingly more likely to be split up if you select a random seat because that’s what random means.”

He said customers could choose to book a random reserved seat for free or select a seat for €2 or €4.

“It’s a very simple policy. It's your choice, if you’ve made the choice. Stop whinging after it’s made,” he said.

Mr O’Leary denied that the airline ever attempted to accommodate passengers who book together with neighbouring seats.

He said more than 50pc of passengers are now choosing to pay for a reserved seat which has led to other passengers being split up.

Michael O'Leary
Michael O'Leary

"We have more than 65 million people who chose to pay for the seat," he said.

“The only way to guarantee sitting together is to buy a reserved seat from a cost of €2,” he added.

Mr O’Leary said the company has reduced their average fairs by 8% this year, which roughly amounts to €4 per person.

He said it was untrue that the algorithm is configured to deliberately disperse passengers who did not pay for reserved seating.

Read More: 'Nobody has done more for Irish families than Ryanair' - Airline defends controversial seating policy

Asked whether the algorithm could be told to seat people on the same booking reference together, Mr O’Leary simply replied “No.

“The system won’t do that. But the system also isn’t told to split people up as best you can.”

Callers to the radio programme repeatedly expressed doubts that no change had been made to the algorithm.

He said: “If we changed it we would tell you, we don’t have anything to hide.”

Parents expressed concern that they had to pay to sit beside children under the age of 12.

Mr O'Leary said: “If the child is under 12 the reserve seat is free. You have to pay for your own seat because we require you to sit beside the child. They will not be allowed to make the booking otherwise.”

Children over the age of 12 will be treated like any other passenger.

He added that in an emergency evacuation all passengers, including teenagers who are not sitting with their parents, will be escorted out of the airplane with the shortest possible delay.

He said those teenagers can meet up with their parents off the plane.

The company previously operated on a policy of free seating where no passenger had an allocated seat.

He said in the first year of the new policy only 10pc of passengers chose to reserve a seat but that figure has risen to more than 50pc.

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