by Nick Trend, The Telegraph, June 8, 2017
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 - I think it was an extra £36 in total for the return flights - or having them allocated at random. The real implication of not paying is 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. 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.
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.Our digital editor, 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.
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. 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).
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 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.