Ryanair's 'random' seat allocation scorned by Oxford University researchers

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 30 June 2017 14:14 BST
Lucky numbers? Researchers say Ryanair assignments are 12 times less likely than a National Lottery jackpot win
Lucky numbers? Researchers say Ryanair assignments are 12 times less likely than a National Lottery jackpot win

Oxford University researchers have poured scorn on Ryanair’s claim that it is assigning passengers who do not pay for seats “randomly”.

As The Independent was first to report, it appears that the Irish airline changed its seat-assignment policy last month, and is now separating couples and larger groups of passengers — often allocating middle seats.

Ryanair has flatly denied that suggestion. The airline points out that its aircraft are flying fuller than ever, and that summer is the season of peak demand. It adds that middle seats are more likely to be randomly allocated because people who pay for seat assignments are more likely to book window or aisle seats.

But Oxford University Statistical Consultancy researchers working with BBC Watchdog bought four groups of four passengers to see what “random” allocations took place.

All 16 passengers were placed in middle seats.

Dr Jennifer Rogers, Director of the Oxford University Statistical Consultancy, concluded that the chance of this occurring randomly was 1 in 540,000,000, 12 times less likely than winning the National Lottery jackpot.

Dr Rogers also looked at row allocation. She calculated that someone in a group would, on average, be sat 10 rows away from someone else from their group. On two of the flights the data revealed that a passenger had been sat 26 rows away from someone else who they were flying with.

Dr Rogers said: “My analysis cast doubt on whether Ryanair’s seat allocation can be purely random.”

A spokesperson for the airline, which is the biggest budget airline in Europe, said: “There is no change in Ryanair policy. When a customer does not purchase a seat, they are then randomly allocated a seat, which has always been our policy.

“We advise customers who wish to sit with their travelling companions to purchase allocated seats, which start from €2.”

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