Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, has suggested that his customers “stop whinging” about not being seated together on flights.
After keeping quiet amid a din of accusations that the budget airline is deliberately splitting up groups, the airline chief has admitted that it is “now increasingly unlikely” that groups will be sat together unless they pay extra.
As advised Peter, if you chose randomly allocated seats then they are randomly allocated as requested.
— Ryanair (@Ryanair) July 20, 2017
When responding to irate callers on the Irish radio show Liveline, he said: “People are not being deliberately dispersed but they are highly likely to be dispersed if they choose a random seat.”
When asked if the booking system would allow groups who haven’t reserved seats to sit together, Mr O’Leary replied: “No – the system won’t do that.”
He added: “But the system also isn’t told, ‘do your best to split them up as far as they possibly can’.”
Mr O’Leary said “we have nothing to hide” and repeatedly denied that the airline has changed its policy or its seat allocation algorithm. Instead, he suggested that more than 50 per cent of customers now want to choose their own seat, compared to 10 per cent previously.
— Rob Hunt (@Ribeard) July 20, 2017
“The algorithm changes as demand for reserved seats changes,” Mr O’Leary said. “Are you likely to be split up if you have selected a random seat? Yes you are, because that’s what random means.”
Passengers have been complaining vociferously on social media channels over the last couple of months about groups who booked together being sat apart, with many of them saying that they have been given the middle seats in a row.
When questioned by presenter Joe Duffy on Liveline, Mr O’Leary admitted that the booking system leaves window and aisle seats unallocated for as long as possible in order to make money selling them.
“Absolutely, perfectly correct, no question about it,” he replied. “That is a customer choice, if you don’t want to pay the extra, don’t pay the extra.”
— Rachel Bartlett (@rachelcbartlett) June 25, 2017
He also suggested that although it appears that there are lots of vacant seats at the point of booking, many of these have already been reserved but passengers “haven’t come back in yet to take up the reserved seat”.
Seat selection costs €2 (£1.78) or €4 (£3.55) for an adult who wants his or her children seated alongside. It is in fact obligatory for anyone travelling on Ryanair with children, so they cannot be left to travel alone.
Other budget airlines confirmed in recent weeks that they will continue to try and seat groups together wherever possible, without demanding an extra charge.
For many of Ryanair’s repeat customers, this was their experience of flying as a group until recently.
EasyJet told Telegraph Travel that it sits families together more than 99 per cent of the time, for no extra charge.
British Airways said that all customers are given the chance to choose their seat for free 24 hours before their flight.
Jet2 also said it “always endeavours to sit customers together”.