Thursday 23 November 2017

Is Ryanair deliberately splitting up passengers who refuse to pay for seat selection?

Airline extras

Ryanair Photo: Getty
Ryanair Photo: Getty
Michael O'Leary
Ryanair cabin crew model the airline's new uniforms. Photo: Taine King

Nick Trend

The other day I had to check in three people for a Vueling flight.

As is often the case with no-frills airlines now, the website gave me the choice of paying to select seats or having them allocated at random.

The real implication of not paying was left unclear.

Depending how you interpret that message, you might think that there is either a very low chance of being seated together, because each of the seats will be assigned randomly, or a reasonably high chance of getting seats together because there is bound to be a row of three seats still available which the computer will select for you.

It was only a two-hour flight; we were all adults; so I took the plunge and didn’t pay. We all ended up seated together.

Ryanair posts a similar warning - pay up or have your seats selected randomly.

Ryanair cabin crew model the airline's new uniforms. Photo: Taine King
Ryanair cabin crew model the airline's new uniforms. Photo: Taine King

I don't pay, and have never been separated from my travelling companions on a Ryanair flight. But in recent weeks there has been a surge of complaints on Twitter (search “@Ryanair seats” and you will see what I mean) from passengers who didn’t pay up, and who say they have not been seated together, even though there were plenty of spare seats on the flight.

My colleague, Oliver Smith, travelled with a couple on a Ryanair flight from Bordeaux this week who checked in late. They were seated at different ends of the plane, even though one of them turned out to have an empty seat next to him.

Other complaints have come from single travellers who have been put in middle seats, even though there are plenty of aisle and window seats available.

So why the sudden surge of dissatisfaction? Has Ryanair changed the way it implements its policy?

The airline categorically denies the accusation. It says that random selection has been happening since 2014, but that because it is carrying more customers, and its planes are now 95 per cent full on average, there are fewer seats available.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the result is that travelling companions can clearly no longer be sure of sitting next to each other on Ryanair unless they pay extra.

Michael O'Leary
Michael O'Leary

Since seat selection costs up to €11 each way, this could add €22 to a return fare. (The extra charge also enables you to check in 60 days in advance, that drops to four days if you don’t pay).

At a glance | Ryanair's charges

  • Seat selection: From €2 to €11
  • 15kg Checked bags: From €10 to €50 per flight
  • Excess baggage fee: €10 per kilo
  • Sporting/musical equipment: From €30 to €60 per item
  • Boarding card re-issue fee: €15
  • Flight change fee: From €30 to €60
  • Name change fee: From €110 to €150
  • Priority boarding: €5
  • Credit card fee: 2pc of total transaction
  • Airport check-in fee: €50pp
  • Infant fee: €20 per infant per flight
  • Missed departure fee: €100

Since October last year, Ryanair has also imposed different rules for families with children aged between two and 12. Adults on the booking have to pay €4 each way to reserve their seats, but they get free seat reservations for up to four children with every adult seat booked. Families with older children must, on the other hand, pay up for every passenger or risk getting separated.

How, I wonder, does all this square with with Ryanair’s much trumpeted Always Getting Better campaign? This was launched back in 2014 by chief executive Michael O’Leary in a bid to turn around Ryanair’s reputation for arrogance towards it customers — typified by the way it penalised passengers who didn’t quite fall in line with the airline’s requirements.

Forget to print out your boarding pass and a swingeing charge would be imposed at the airport. Fail on cabin baggage rules, and you would pay a fortune to check it into the hold. These policies were moderated, with the aim of making the airline more customer friendly.

Back then, O’Leary was explicit about what this would mean, “No more conflict,” he said. And his chief marketing officer echoed him: Ryanair wanted to “become as liked as we are useful”.

We wait in hope.

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