The inquiry found that, out of those who refused to pay the extra fee to select a seat, 86 per cent of passengers were seated together anyway. That figure rises to 90 per cent if Ryanair is excluded from the list of airlines.
The analysis of 3,357 economy passengers carried out by Which? Travel discovered that the 10 most popular airlines that operate paid-for seating options were asked whether or not they seat families, couples and groups together, all of them confirmed that they did - with the exception of Ryanair and Wizz Air.
Families with children should be protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) guidelines, which state that airlines should ‘aim to sit parents close to children’ and that parents should not have to pay to avoid being seated away from their child. But airlines are not currently obliged to follow this advice. Some airlines – including BA, Thomas Cook and Tui – state that children under 12 will always be seated with at least one adult.
When the CAA surveyed recent flyers last year, it found nearly one in five had paid extra for seat reservations because they were travelling with children. Meanwhile, the Royal Aeronautical Society Flight Operations Group said it believes family members sat in different sections of the plane may lose precious time looking for one another during an emergency evacuation, putting themselves – and others – at risk.
However, Which? claimed that Ryanair ignores these guidelines and forces families to pay to sit together,
citing the airline’s policy that it is compulsory for at least one adult in the group to select a paid-for seat. They can then reserve seats for free for up to four children.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said: “Unless you are flying with Ryanair or Wizz Air or fancy a little extra legroom, it’s not worth paying more to choose your seat, as you’ll be seated next to your travelling companions anyway.
“It’s worrying to hear that parents are being separated from young children. It’s reprehensible for any airline to make money by splitting up families and we would encourage the regulator to examine such cases closely to ensure the guidelines are working.”
He added: “Passengers with mobility issues should make their requirements clear to the airline, and be sure of your rights if they resist – the law is on your side.”
The rules concerning disability are enshrined in European law. But the CAA has warned that in some cases passengers with reduced mobility were paying extra to sit with their carer despite airline regulations meaning this should happen free of charge.
Ryanair said that it “fully complies with all EU safety regulations”, while Wizz Air said the safety of its passengers was “always our number one priority”.
The investigation found that some airlines allow customers to select a seat for free.