Will Ryanair’s Seat Allocation System Split Families?

family-splitTwo months ago, Ryanair introduced a controversial seat allocation system, where if you don’t pay, you are allocated a seat without your approval and without the possibility of changing it. This way, the airline can put 2 people (such as a mother and her child) on 2 very distant seats. Many of us wondered: Will Ryanair do this on purpose, just to force us to pay for a seat?

Ryanair has a reputation for hating its customers; in fact, it was voted Worst Airline in 2012 and was among theĀ Worst Brands for Customer Satisfaction in 2013 in a survey organised by Which? magazine. So it wouldn’t surprise anybody if it split groups or families, just to convince them to pay for their seats. Just like the mafia making you pay a protection tax that protects you against… the mafia.

On the other hand, Ryanair announced that they want to change and clear their image. They are trying to demonstrate that they are the “good guy” and that they can treat their customers with respect. But can they?

I also wondered this myself, and since their allocation algorithm is not public, all we can do is to observe what’s happening. As I wrote last week, I analysed their allocation system for a few weeks. During my analysis, I saw that the seats are allocated in a certain order. But I often noticed situations in which they left 1-2 seats unallocated just to allocate 2-6 adjoining seats on the next available row. This made me think that the 2-6 seats were for a group/family, and Ryanair gave them adjoining seats (as they probably wanted).

As I could not understand whether or not this was a rule (or whether Ryanair does this only for certain types of groups), I consulted people who have travelled with Ryanair in a group since allocated seating was introduced. I asked on big travel forums like TripAdvisor and boards.ie. Many people reported that they travelled in big groups and were allocated seats together, and nobody said that Ryanair split their group. The media haven’t reported any cases of split families either, at least not since this unfortunate story.

The data I managed to gather confirms that Ryanair, indeed, tries to put families/groups together and does not split families travelling together, provided that you made a single booking and you don’t check in at the very last moment.

Have you travelled with Ryanair in a group since February? Were you seated together or not? I’d like to hear about your experience, so please leave a comment below.

Update on 05/03/2015: There is one person (see below) that say his family was split, despite being on the same reservation. The check in was made 10 hours before the flight.

13 comments

  1. Janet says:

    I have just checked in a week before my flight and we got allocated seats together. I am pretty sure the system will allocate seats together until it simply cannot do so. It works similarly on BA, although you actually get to choose your seats, but you can’t check in until 24 hours before so surely even more chance of a problem.
    Janet recently posted..Will Ryanair’s Seat Allocation System Split Families?My Profile

  2. Victoria says:

    Just fallen foul of this new policy, yet another way to fleece us, the free for all was better than this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I checked in noticed I was allocated a seat so I’ve had to pay for my husband to make sure we are close to each other-we aren’t even together, rubbish,rubbish,rubbish

  3. Steven says:

    Yes they do split families and the allocation system doesn’t seem to make sense – Mum, Dad, 11 yo, 8 yo all on row 2 together, but our 3 year old on row 6. We intend to swap Dad and 3 yo…

  4. Artur says:

    Hi !

    I’m just wondering if the rows 1,16,17 (extra leg room) are completely unallocated and there is still 4 seats left in the 29th row (and a few single seats in random rows) is there a chance I get a seat in the 29th row (reservation for two people) or rather they’ll give me the extra leg room ones prior to the 29th row ?

    Cheers !

    • Lucian says:

      For some reason that I am missing, Ryanair seems to allocate the row #29 the last. I just checked some flights departing tomorrow and they all seem to allocate the rows 1, 16 and 17 before 29. I can not be sure of this, but this is my guess! So you either wait till the last moment (4 hours before the scheduled departure), or you risk.

      After you do the check-in, please tell how long before departure you did it and which places have you received!

  5. Chris says:

    Checked in 6 days before outbound and 7 days before inbound (as soon as we arrived at the hotel). Got allocated 24D and 24E together both times. Families were split up on both flights but unknown check-in time for them. As we had allocated seating we were one of the last on the plane both ways. Each time we found a mother (+children on outbound) trying to claim our empty seats for her family. The first time she was not keen to move. It’s not good that we should be made to feel bad for jumping through the hoops correctly. Families should either check-in very early or simply pay the money. Even better Ryanair should change the system!

  6. Alex says:

    Just checked in 10h before the flight (as usual in many previous flights) and my 4yo daughter got split from us 3 rows away. #shameful Btw: just 1 reservation all together, I have tried to pay for allocated seats but the results was even worse, because the system did not even show the possibility to me and my wife to be seat together (with another 1yo kid on my laps) and my daughter would have been allocated 6 seats from me – same row – and my wife 23 rows away from us!

  7. Claire Everson says:

    I checked in for my return flight as soon as was possible, 7 days before, yet have just downloaded boarding passes for flights tomorrow to see that myself and my young baby are in one seat, and my partner is behind us!!!! This is not going to be pretty for anyone – my baby will be constantly trying to scramble over the poor people next to me and screaming…..

  8. James Mcpheators says:

    9 people on same booking. Online check in 6 days before travelling and all split up. Still several unallocated rows of seating with 3 free seats throughout the plane as shown on Ryanair website. So, no, Ryanair do not try to keep families together.

  9. luke says:

    I’ve just checked in as a group of 5 (1 infant) and we’ve been split up! My 5 year old is expected to board on his own at the back! While we board from the front. It looks like they’ve put us in all four corners just because we didn’t pay a premium.

  10. Eva says:

    I checked in 7 days before the flight and we received seats 33 C,D,E,F. I wish it would be the same for all families!

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