As the economy improves and the travel markets notch considerable gains year over year, airlines are trying to hone in on their pricing algorithms in order to maximize revenues. This comes in an a variety of ways from increasing ancillary fees to reducing premium fares to cracking down on hidden city ticketing. Lucky recently wrote about one of these cases: how airlines have made the act of redeeming miles somewhat less valuable by pricing premium cabin fares more reasonably. And Vox has an interesting article addressing what the low cost carriers (specifically Ryanair) are doing to get passengers to pay up for seats.
Well it looks like a recent study indicates that Ryanair has come up with an additional way to maximize ancillary revenue: algorithmic separation of families with the same last name when assigning seats. Well despite Ryanair denying these claims that it was actively involved in separating families, a study by UK’s Civil Aviation Authority found that 35% of Ryanair flyers were separated from their traveling companions when choosing not to pay for assigned seating. That number contrasts with the industry average of 18 percent.
Furthermore, there is some evidence to suggest that charging passengers to sit together may hinder safety evacuations of flights because of the frantic search or lookout for loved ones on the plane during the process. As of now the UK’s CAA is already attempting to push for laws to passed in its country to make traveling with companions easier. In 2016, the US passed the Families Flying Together Act to ensure that kids under 13 will always be seated next to a parent, but the FAA has so far not enforced this legislation with the airlines. Airlines such as Southwest of course have family boarding in place to limit the number of cases where families are separated, but until this day there is not a regulatory solution for the dilemma.
Obviously low cost carriers thrive on customers to spending money on fees such as seat assignments, carry on baggage, and the act of printing tickets, but at what point does this blatantly transform into taking advantage of the customer? Ryanair is obviously trying to capitalize on the weakness in the system to make more money. While this seems perfectly logical and legal, it just doesn’t seem to be the ethically or morally right. I guess its just another case of ethics/morality vs capitalism in the society we live in.