Irate passengers have accused Ryanair of routinely allocating groups of travellers seats in different rows in a bid to force them to pay to sit together, with some claiming the budget airline has changed its seating policy.

Ryanair insists there has been no change and says if you don't pay to choose a seat it will be "randomly" allocated. But has seen a surge in complaints from passengers over seating allocation in recent days, with more than 20 complaints about the issue tweeted to the airline in the last 24 hours alone.

The row follows Ryanair's decision last year to cut the free check-in window to just four days before departure, and to force passengers travelling with children under 12 to pay for an allocated seat.

See our 20 Ryanair tips for ways to save flying with the budget airline.

'It is a despicable charge – shame on you Ryanair'

Passengers have been contacting MoneySavingExpert after noticing an apparent change in Ryanair's seating policy.

Kevin emailed to say he'd flown Ryanair at the end of March and had been given two seats together for free – but last week found his party was seated separately.

He said: "We got 12E and 29A. You now have no choice but to pay £7.50 if you want to sit beside each other. I think it's a despicable charge as they clearly could allocate late check-in seats together previously. Shame on you Ryanair."

Fiona emailed: "I had two seats beside me free, and my husband was 10 rows behind and had a spare seat. I spoke to cabin crew as I noticed lots of people with the same problem. They said it is delaying the flight as they are trying to rearrange seats for people, especially children. This has been happening for two weeks."

MSE Matt was recently separated from his partner on a flight home, as his boarding passes show below.

He said: "We checked in at the same time but were given seats 14 rows apart. When I got on the plane there was a spare seat next to me and I asked if my girlfriend could move and they refused."

Fury as Ryanair seats passengers 'rows apart' unless they pay to sit together

We've seen dozens of tweets from passengers complaining about this recently, such as:

If you pay £2+ for a seat you can check in 60 days ahead – go quick to find the cheapest

Unfortunately if you want to guarantee your party sits together, you'll need to pay. Paid-for seat check-in now opens 60 days before, and Ryanair says prices remain the same throughout the 60 days – so if you're willing to pay, checking in as soon as possible means you'll have the most chance of bagging the cheapest seats before other travellers snap them up.

Ryanair's confirmed the following costs for most flights by row (some longer-haul flights to the Canary Islands etc may be more):

  • Rows 1, 2 (seats DEF), 16 and 17 are priority with extra legroom and priority boarding. They cost £11+.
  • Rows 2 (seats ABC) to 5 are priority boarding seats. They cost £7+.
  • Rows 6 to 15 and 18 to 33 are standard seats. They cost £2+.

If you're not willing to pay, check-in opens four days before your flight.

Flying with kids? You MUST pay for an allocated seat

Since October 2016 Ryanair has made it compulsory for at least one adult in a party which includes children under 12 to pay £4 for a seat reservation. You'll then be able to choose nearby free reserved seats for your children (up to a max of four).

Check-in for these seats also opens 60 days in advance, and you can choose seats in rows 18 to 30 or pay more if you want to sit in other rows. If you have more than one adult in your party, they'll also have to pay for their own seat reservation to sit with the group.

What Ryanair says

When asked by customers on Twitter if it has changed its seating policy, Ryanair declined to answer, instead saying "if you wish to be seated together you must pay for a seat".

It added that unhappy customers can fill out a complaints form.

When challenged by MSE on whether it had changed its policy to deliberately separate groups, a spokesperson said: "No, there has been no change. Customers who do not wish to purchase a seat are randomly allocated a seat, free of charge."

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