Some Airlines Use Algorithms To Purposely Split Families Up – Here’s How It Works

Nowadays it is commonplace for airlines to charge to reserve your seat. Everybody does it from the cheapest low-cost carriers to the biggest legacy carriers. Whether you pay for a seat or not, you can guarantee that you will get a seat on a flight, however, while some airlines will keep parties sat together, others will actively split them. The thinking behind this is that passengers will happily pay for a seat next to their loved one. One of the main airlines at the centre of this problem is Ryanair, according to research last year conducted on behalf of the British Civil Aviation Authority.

35% of Ryanair passengers were not sat together when not purchasing seats. Photo: Ryanair

A Dangerous Game

While airlines may think “Hey, that’s an extra £5 for us”, research from the Royal Aeronautical Society has shown that sitting parties apart could cause a safety issue in the event of an emergency evacuation of the aircraft. Passengers can have their focus shifted from evacuating the aircraft to finding their loved ones. While this can endanger their own personal safety, this could also endanger the safety of others should their search block easy access to the exits.

Two passengers on the same booking are sat apart despite ample free seating.

In a 2017 survey conducted by the CAA, it was found that 35% of passengers who didn’t pay for allocated seating on Ryanair weren’t sat with their party. In contrast, Britain’s other large low-cost airline EasyJet only affected 15% of respondents. This was the same as Britain’s flag carrier, British Airways who also had a figure of 15%. In fact, out of every passenger surveyed across all airlines (4316), only 18% of respondents were split from their party. According to VOX, “Ryanair says if a person doesn’t pay for their seat assignment, they are “randomly” assigned, which may result in them not sitting with their party.”

Surnames Split Up

According to The Independent, Ryanair’s algorithm recognises those with the same surnames and splits them up. It wouldn’t be hard to believe that the algorithm also separates those on the same booking. While Ryanair argues that seating is completely random, they are well aware that the system is designed to not seat individuals together for free. On a recent “time to check in” email received, the option to pay for a seat was highlighted with the text “Reserve your favourite seat and travel alongside your family and friends.” This is in addition to a previous “Seats are filling up fast” email which states the benefits of buying standard seats as “sit beside your family and friends”.

Browsing through Twitter, it’s not hard to find unhappy passengers who have been unnecessarily split up, however, as Ryanair treats each passenger booking as separate, even if travelling on the same booking number, each passenger is allocated a random seat, as opposed to each group.

Have you been affected by Ryanair’s random seating policy? Let us know in the comments down below!