Hundreds come forward to complain about Ryanair seat allocation

Airline denies it has changed how it assigns seating

Ryanair has repeated its denials that it has made any modifications to its free seat-allocation system despite hundreds of people coming forward since Wednesday to say they had been separated from travelling companions when flying with the airline in recent weeks because they had not paid for specific seats.

An Irish Times story on Wednesday detailed the experience of a number of the airline's passengers who were allocated free seats far apart from travelling companions, contrary to their previous experiences with the airline. Hundreds of others have made contact to echo their concerns since the story was published.

A thread running through virtually all the complaints was that passengers who have travelled with the airline in recent weeks - including families travelling with children - were separated from companions irrespective of when they checked in and how many adjacent seats were available on the aircraft.

In response the airline insisted there had been “no change in Ryanair policy”.


“When a customer does not purchase a seat, they are then randomly allocated a seat, which has always been our policy,” it said.

It insisted the reason so many people were being separated from travelling companions now is not because the airline is seeking to maximise profits by forcing passengers keen to sit with travelling companions to pay for seats.

Instead, it said, it was because “95 per cent of the seats on our flights are full and we are now in the peak of summer travel, raising the prospect of more people choosing not to reserve a seat experiencing this issue”.

This claim runs contrary to the experiences of many passengers who have said that they and their companions were separated even on flights described as half empty.

The airline also played down safety considerations raised by some passengers who questioned what would happen in an emergency situation if panicked families were separated.

There is no doubt that this is a ploy to make people pay to pre-book seats. My husband and I travelled to Faro in March, didn't pay for seats and were allocated together

It said it had “no safety concerns” and pointed out that adults travelling with children are required to purchase one allocated seat and up to four children on the same booking can be given free allocated seats.

It concluded by saying it had “nothing further to add”.

Reader’s stories

This happened to us the past two times we travelled from London to Ireland, it had not happened to us before May of this year. Even when you look at the available seats there were plenty of seats available where we could have been seated together but the random allocation placed us at opposite ends of the plane. They ask for up to €10 per allocated seat depending on the quality of the location of the seat. Maria Corcoran

I checked in online earlier today and was I was assigned a middle seat when the plane was half empty. My Mam who is also travelling with me was assigned a middle seat in another row. Another money making racket Ryanair. We then checked in online for the return journey and both of us are separated yet again, with middle seats. Mary Condon

Checked in an soon as we could for flight to Alicante and they sat my 3-year-old two rows away from me and 10 rows away from my husband. Had to pay to get us seats together which remarkably there was so why weren't we allocated those seats originally. Pauline Burns

It is a complete disgrace. My 5-year-old was put at the back of the plane to board through the back door. My 7-year-old in the front but away from me. My 5-year-old is not supposed to sit alone but also board alone. I ended up paying extra for both the outward and return flights to ensure I sat with my kids. It is so irresponsible of this airline. Cathy Dwyer

This happened to us they "randomly allocated us 12b and 25b" when I rang and asked to pay to sit together they told me 12a, 12c, 25a and c were all free and which one did we want to move to. Both journeys numerous passengers mixed and at least four families separated. Róisín Sorcha Kennedy

My family have/are completing travel to Leeds Bradford, Liverpool and Comiso all with Ryanair . On every flight, we were allocated seats separately. On every occasion, there were multiple banks of three seats together which could have been allocated. I have been obliged to pay additional fees on six occasions to Ryanair to ensure someone sits next to our 12-year-old son. While Ryanair's T's & C's indicate seat allocation is random unless a paid for selected seat is chosen, I have never been offered separate seats when availability of seats together was evident. Frankly, I do not believe that there has not been a deliberate action taken to produce this outcome as claimed by Ryanair. Richard Beck

I recently booked a Ryanair flight for myself and my wife on same booking. When checking in on same booking reference, we were randomly given seats not side-by-side despite there being numerous available seats side-by-side. The only option for us to sit together was to pay an additional charge for allocated seating. Total additional charge 31 Euro. It feels like a silent, underhand, additional revenue raising tactic by Ryanair, without being up-front about it. Brian Cassin

I have a flight on Sunday so I decided to check-in ASAP to avoid any issues. Lo and behold the same thing happened. Ryanair's response to you was that this was happening due to the lack of free seats as customers were availing of the seat reservation option. However When I opt to purchase a seat, with the exception of the emergency exits there are 10 reserved seats on my flight leaving roughly 60 unallocated seats, yet we are seated apart. It's clear that something has changed. Dale Scheepers

Heading to Porto last Friday my wife and I got seats randomly selected me at the front and her at the back, I logged on to my Ryanair manage flight page and got a message to say "unhappy with the seat selection- sit beside your partner for €6, which I did ! Next on the way home yesterday (Porto London Stansted)the same thing we had to pay again, as we had to come through Stansted we decided to just go Ryanair random seats for the last leg it was the last flight and it was pretty empty, anyway I got assigned seat 7b with a spare seat beside me and my wife got 33a with a spare seat beside her (on a half-empty plane) I noticed every other couple were split up too on this flight it made it a bit weird getting off too! James McKee

This happened to my partner, our one-year-old child and I recently. We checked in as early as possible but were given distantly separated, middle seats and it has never happened before. Thankfully, the nice person sitting in one of the adjacent seats agreed to swap, allowing us to sit together. This recent change is sneaky and a return to the unfriendly Ryanair of the past. I'd also say that Ryanair's claim that the seats are allocated "randomly" is false if they all customers who book together end up separated unless they pay. "Randomly" would mean Ryanair's system doesn't interfere with the seat locations and there would be a chance that you'd be seated together. Daire O'Brien

There is no doubt that this is a ploy to make people pay to pre-book seats. My husband and I travelled to Faro in March, didn't pay for seats and were allocated together. We travelled again in May but this time he was in row 1 and I was in row 17. Interestingly, the woman in my row (17), her husband was seated beside my husband in row 1! So, obviously both couples could have been placed together but Ryanair deliberately separated us. A group of four girls were also travelling on or flight and each of them was put in the middle seat all over the plane (one beside me). A seven-person stag was also separated all over the plane (one beside my husband). Again, they were all over the plane. However, this new policy which came in sometime since middle of March this year, is a bit of an own goal by Ryanair. The stag party of seven didn't bother purchasing any drinks on board as they were all placed apart. Deirdre Healy

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast