The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced on February 3, 2018 that it has launched a review of airline allocated seating policy. The review will determine whether any operators were purposely separating passengers traveling together to additionally charge them for allocated seats. CAA customer research conducted by YouGov in early 2018 showed that 18% of passengers who did not pay for allocated seating were split up, however the likelihood of being separated varied dramatically depending on the airline.

Numbers of the report show that Irish airline Ryanair was most likely to separate groups which did not pay to sit together with 35% of people saying they were split up. It is not the first time the airline received negative attention for their seat allocation policy. Back in July, 2017, the airline was heavily critiqued for separating groups of customers despite them checking-in at the same time, reports.

The study of over 4,000 customers found that just over half of them were informed about additional pay to ensure sitting together before booking. However, 10% of people reported to only have been informed after booking and 10% claim to not have been informed at all. Moreover, 46% of respondents state feeling negatively about an airline when they realized they would have to pay more to guarantee sitting together.

The CAA announced that it will aim to find out whether airlines’ customers were being treated fairly and whether the companies’ policies were transparent. “UK consumers collectively may be paying between £160-390m per year for allocated seating. Of those paying, two-thirds spent between £5 and £30 per seat and a further 8% paid £30 or more. Our work will consider whether or not these charges are fair and transparent,” said Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of the CAA in an official statement.

An investigation into airlines‘ seating policies will include reviewing airline practices in allocated seating regarding couples, business colleagues or groups of friends flying on the same plane, however the investigation will not cover families with younger children, for whom there are specific safety rules, The Independent reports.

In response to the investigation, Ryanair stated that the company will gladly participate in the CAA review. “Ryanair is happy to participate in any review by the CAA into seating policy. Our policy is very clear for our customers and seats can be purchased from just €2 while children traveling in families get free allocated seats,” Ryanair spokesperson told AeroTime via email.

The pay for allocated seats was first explored by the low-cost airline EasyJet in 2011, and the following year the airline introduced a “pay extra to choose your seat” system, according to The Independent. Soon, the practice was followed by other airlines.