Plane greedy – Are airlines holding families to ransom?

Many airlines introduced paying for seat reservations on flights some years ago. Airlines say this is because some customers want to ensure that they are near the loo, by a window, or in the middle if they get travel sick etc. Of course there’s also paying over the odds for legroom seats too! Remember when you could get them for free just by asking at the desk?!

So, what are the legal rules about seat reservations?

EU Regulation (EU) 965/2012
This regulatation states that if a child travels with an accompanying adult in the same class of cabin, the child should be seated in the same seat row segment as the accompanying adult. Where this is not possible, the child should be seated no more than one seat row or aisle away.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is responsible for aviation rules and regulations in Europe and their document known as Annex IV (PART-OPS) says:
CAT.OP.MPA.165 Passenger seating
“The operator shall establish procedures to ensure that passengers are seated where, in the event that an emergency evacuation is required, they are able to assist and not hinder evacuation of the aircraft.”

Civil Aviation Authority guidance
The CAA states it has published guidance material for UK airlines explaining how to comply with the above rule, part of which says that family groups should be seated together.

“The seating of children close by their parents or guardians should be the aim of airline seat allocation procedures for family groups and large parties of children.
Young children and infants who are accompanied by adults should ideally be seated in the same seat row as the adult. Where this is not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults. This is because the speed of an emergency evacuation may be affected by adults trying to reach their children.”

The CAA says it receives very few complaints relating to seating. A CAA spokesperson said

“On the whole we are satisfied that UK airlines comply with their obligations to seat family groups together. It is important though that passengers are made aware of rights during the booking process. Our advice to passengers is clear, family groups do not have to pay for reserved seating in order to guarantee they sit together. Airlines are obliged to sit children in the same seat row as an accompanying adult during the boarding process. Where that is not possible, (e.g. Boeing 737s or Airbus 320s, where cabins are configured into rows of three seats either side of the single aisle and more than three people are travelling together) the child should be no more than one seat row away under EU rules. The CAA works closely with UK airlines to ensure they understand this obligation.”

So, how do major airlines compare when allocating seats for adults with children?

Airline Short haul from & up to long haul Reserving seats
BA £7 £20 Free to gold/silver members at booking, Bronze week before flying, anyone 24 hours before free allocation
Thomas Cook £10 £22 Free allocation at check-in
Thomson £9.50 £15.50 Free allocation to anyone 7 days before flying
Monarch £3 to £11 £11 Free to Vantage Club gold members incl. legroom, 24 hours before free allocation
Easyjet from £1.99 to £21.99 Free allocation at check in and to those with Flexi tickets & easyJet Plus cardholders)
Ryanair £8 or £13 or £15 1 adult must pay €4 so children get free reserved seat. Max. 4 children for each adult per booking get free seat reserved. Anyone free at 4 days 2 hrs before flying

British Airways
A spokesperson for BA said “We prioritise seating families travelling with children together, which we organise a few days before online check-in opens. We will always make sure than any child under 12 is seated with an adult from their group.”

Thomas Cook
A spokesperson for Thomas Cook Airlines said: “We always give seating priority to families flying with children to make sure that at least one accompanying adult is always seated with a child. To guarantee the whole family is seated together, families have the option of paying for seat selection.”

Thomson
A Thomas Cook spokesperson said “We always try to seat customers travelling together next to each other wherever possible, with priority given to families travelling with children. If a customer has chosen not to use the pre-booking service and, in very rare circumstances, their child is initially allocated a seat away from them it will be automatically re-assigned.”

Monarch
A Monarch spokesperson said “Monarch will always try to sit families together and a child (2-15 years) will never be sat without an accompanying adult. During peak periods, it may be necessary to split groups/families, but a child will always be sat with an accompanying adult from the same group/family.”

Easyjet
An Easyjet spokesperson said “If passengers choose not to pay to select their seats our seating systems will always aim to seat families together when they check-in online. If a passenger does leave checking in until close to the time of departure and all of the seats have been allocated to other passengers, we will try to allocate as many of the family together as we can at the airport and if necessary will ask other passengers if they are prepared to move once they are onboard the plane.”

Ryanair
A Ryanair spokesperson said of the mandatory charge, introduced in October 2016:“This way adults can choose where to seat their children. This will also allow adults to check-in for their flight 60 days before departure. It will not be mandatory for any other adults or teenagers in the booking to reserve a seat; however they may choose to do so.”

Comparing Ryanair equality
Does Ryanair apply this policy to all parties that require individuals in need of care to be sat together? Where a reduced mobility passenger is travelling with an accompanying adult, Ryanair says it “…contacts them by email and do our best to ensure the accompanying passenger is seated next to them and allocate them a seat free of charge.”

Is Ryanair in breach of The Equal Status Acts 2000-2015, because adults with children are being charged where others without children are not, which is therefore discriminatory against those with dependants? Also, others in need of a carer are not charged.

Irish Aviation Authority
Ryanair comes under the jurisdiction of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). A spokesperson for the IAA said “If a child travels with an accompanying adult in the same class of cabin, the child should be seated in the same seat row segment as the accompanying adult. Where this is not possible, the child should be seated no more than one seat row or aisle away. All Irish airlines must comply with these requirements and the IAA monitors Irish airlines to ensure compliance.” Despite my requesting a response regarding Ryanair’s mandatory charging from the IAA Director of Safety Regulation Ralph James and CEO Eamonn Brennan and repeated requests to the Press Office and making a complaint using the IAA procedure, the IAA has declined to comment any further on repeating the line on the EU guidance and refuses point blank to comment on monitoring Ryanair’s practice and whether it will take any action on the possible breach of the EU guidelines and indeed the Equality Act.

Further confusion
The European Consumer Centre Ireland said that this matter wouldn’t fit under their remit and suggested contacting the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR), as it is the national enforcement agency. But it too said it did not have any legal remit in the area. The European Consumer Centre UK said “This is an area that we would seldom advise on as the experts in this field would be the Civil Aviation Authority who has already provided a comment. It also recommended contacting the CAR.

So, there you have it, none of the organisations in Ireland responsible for overseeing airlines practices want to get involved in monitoring airlines seating children with their adults despite the equivalent in the UK doing so.

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