“Why have they split up my family on the plane?!”

  • 15 Jan, 2020
  • Franki Napolitano

Why have they split up my family on the plane?

If you’ve travelled recently, there’s a high chance you may have heard unhappy groups asking this very question in your airport or on your flight.

Reports of airlines such as Ryanair, United Airlines, Jetstar and Delta all being accused of splitting up young families on a flight are apparent from a quick Google search.

Many victims claim they are being penalised for not paying for allocated seating; which is usually an added cost on top of the ticket price you’ve already paid…but is this necessarily always the case?

What do the officials say about random seat allocations on planes?

According to the the Civil Aviation Authority, “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.”

Which is fair and in most cases, the airlines do adhere to this. The problem lies where two parents are given seats at opposite ends of the aircraft, with one of them with their child and the other on their own, or with their other child.

So it reality, no this doesn’t seem fair at all. Especially when they arrive for the flight to find that it isn’t that busy so therefore actually sitting closer together shouldn’t be an issue…

Why has my airline split up our seats on the plane?

Statistically, people are more likely to avoid booking a middle seat and opt for the aisle or window seat instead. In turn, this creates more available middle seats than the others that need to be filled.

This is often perpetuated by airlines like Ryanair that allow you to pre purchase your seats and self allocate up to 60 days before the flight. In comparison, those who opt not to pre purchase are only able to check in 4 days before the flight, usually meaning there aren’t many full rows of seating left.

“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 €/£4) for them”.

– Statement from Ryanair website regarding the issue (Jan 2019).

We should include that while the price of a seat does start at around £4, that would usually end up being for the aforementioned middle seats in rows 18-30. If you want to make sure you will sit with your child, parents are required to reserve a seat (pay for it), but that does include 4 free childrens reserved seating.

Note that free child seats available in rows 11-15…but not in July or August, you know, prime family holiday time, when you will also need to pay the difference in their seat cost, too…so chosing whose seat to move becomes a game of numbers.

Just a quick look at Twitter brings up reams of unhappy passengers been split up from their, family, partners and friends…

Is it just another way for airlines to make more money?!

Disgruntled passengers and circumstances would argue that yes, it is about money. If the airlines are able to make a bit of extra money off of their passengers, then they will. However, quite obviously, the airlines profusely deny this is the case and instead blame the algorithms the booking systems use. How true do we think this is?

We’ll leave that decision up to you…

Tips to avoid being split up on your flight

We’d love to be able to provide a comprehensive list of tips on how to avoid being split up from your travel party on a flight, but we can’t as there doesn’t seem to be any.  Sorry about that, sad times indeed. We love a helpful tips list!

Apart from suggesting you speak to your chosen airline prior to booking to establish how they allocate their seating, all we can say is that to avoid the inevitable split you could pay the fees to sit together or choose a different airline…


Have you been affected a similar incident to those above? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter!

About Franki Napolitano

Working in the travel industry has really opened my eyes to the attitudes, issues and obstacles people can face just trying to go on holiday. Whether it's due to their health, family situations or budgets, travel should be accessible for all. I cover everything from travelling with a disability to how to save money while you travel, hoping to make the holiday process easier for all.

3 responses to ““Why have they split up my family on the plane?!””

  1. just been allocated 2 window seats on Ryanair 4 rows apart, and had pay £10 for the middle seat next to one of these. Grr

  2. Its not only Ryanair. TAP Portuguese Air lines separated us, allocated us the WORST seats (last row on the plane) almost inside the loo in a 9 hour flight to Brazil and blimey, we are paying over £4k for three tickets. Budget air line? Greed is the name.

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