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UK study claims Ryanair is deliberately splitting up groups of passengers who don’t pay to reserve seats

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Passengers unwilling to pay Ryanair’s fee for choosing where to sit on a flight are beating National Lottery odds to end up in middle seats, a British study has claimed. The budget airline has been accused of reserving more popular window and aisle seats for passengers paying the reservation fee of between £2 and £15, and splitting up groups and families.

Ryanair insists customers who do not want to pay for a preferred seat are randomly allocated one free of charge. Scientists at Oxford University were asked to investigate the randomness of the airline’s seating arrangements for the BBC consumer affairs programme Watchdog.

Four groups of four non-seat-reserving passengers were sent on four separate Ryanair flights.
On all the flights, every one of the travellers was allocated a middle seat. The researchers calculated that the likelihood of all four travellers randomly ending up in middle seats on each of the flights was around 1:540,000,000.

In comparison, the odds of winning the British National Lottery jackpot are 1:45,000,000. Dr Jennifer Rogers, director of Oxford University’s Statistical Consultancy, said: “This is a highly controversial topic and my analysis cast doubt on whether Ryanair’s seat allocation can be purely random.” The scientists also canvassed 26 people from nine groups who had been separated from their party when travelling with Ryanair.

In total 21 of these passengers were allocated middle seats. Adding these and the BBC flights together showed that every person from 11 of the total 13 groups assessed had been given a middle seat.
An individual from a group would, on average, be sat 10 rows away from someone else from their group, Dr Rogers found.

A bookings form advert on Ryanair’s website offering standard seat reservations for £2 says: “Can’t stand the middle seat? Don’t leave it to chance, take your pick from a choice of seats. Get up to 50% off reserved seats with prices starting at £2.

A statement from Ryanair said: “We haven’t changed the random seat allocation policy. “The reason for more middle seats being allocated is that more and more passengers are taking our reserved seats (from just £2) and these passengers overwhelmingly prefer aisle and window seats which is why people who choose random (free of charge) seats are more likely to be allocated middle seats.

“Some random-seat passengers are confused by the appearance of empty seats beside them when they check in up to four days prior to departure. “The reason they can’t have these window or aisle seats is that these are more likely to be selected by reserved seat passengers many of whom only check in 24 hours prior to departure.

“Since our current load factor is 95%, we have to keep these window and aisle seats free to facilitate those customers who are willing to pay (from £2) for them. “This is entirely a matter of customer choice.

“We are not trying to force people to pay for reserved seats.

“We are very happy to facilitate any customer who wants a free of charge random seat but we are also going to do our best to facilitate customers who are willing to pay for a reserved seat (usually window or aisle) which start from £2.”

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