The Perils Of Budget Airlines

4th January 2018

With the winter dragging on, many of us may be already planning a holiday in the sun somewhere, but after the Christmas period we all have to tighten our belts a little, so we look to the budget airlines. We all know that using budget airlines can be a risky and frustrating business. They may have cheap flights available but there are all the extra costs that they tack on, the delays, the lack of customer service, the cramped seats etc etc…

Ryanair may be ones of the worst offenders, having been recently voted joint last in a Which? survey of European airlines. This was following a major error concerning their pilot roster which led to around 20,000 cancelled flights in September and October, leaving many travellers fuming and out of pocket.

Other horror stories concern high charges for credit card booking, for printing out boarding passes, overpriced food and drink and most recently a surge of complaints from customers who didn’t pay to choose their own seats and so ended up sat far away from their travelling companions!

There have been stories of couples and even parents and children being separated, and often it seems they are assigned middle seats between strangers.

This has led many to express incredulous dissatisfaction with Ryanair’s apparently ‘random’ seat allocation system. However, Ryanair refutes any claims of deliberately penalising those who do not pay to choose their seats, claiming their allocation system is genuinely random.

They say the accusations only began in the Summer which is the busiest flying time of the year. They also point out that Ryanair have been allocating random seats since 2014 but flights have become more popular and therefore more full than ever before, with flights now 95% full on average meaning inevitably, competition for seats will increase.

They also argue, more crucially, that most people who choose to pay extra to choose their own seat allocation usually chose window or aisle seats and therefore the majority of seats left over would be middle seats.

Now Oxford University researchers have weighed in on the issue, and having looked more carefully at the numbers have thrown some serious shade at Ryanair’s claims.

Teaming up with the BBC’s Watchdog they secretly bought 4 groups each with 4 passengers randomly allocated tickets on Ryanair flights to see what would happen. Every single faux customer was placed in a middle seat, which Dr Jennifer Rogers, Director of the Oxford University Statistical Consultancy claimed had a likelihood of 1 in 540,000,000, which is a staggering 12 times less likely than scooping big on the UK lottery. This may be just coincidence and it is entirely possible other factors may not have been taken into account, but it seems a significant figure.

Dr Jennifer Rogers

Dr Rogers also analysed just how far members of their faux parties would usually be seated apart and found that on average they were seated 10 rows away from someone else from their group. On two flights members of the same party were seated 26 rows apart!

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

If you want to choose your own seat then it can cost you up to £11 extra each, at that price it would add up to £22 extra on a return flight; apply that to a group of four and it adds up to a hefty £88 just for the privilege of sitting with your friends and family when you go on holiday.

Here are the prices broken down:

Seat selection - £2 per person per flight for ‘standard’ seats

  • £4 for an adult travelling with children
  •  £7 for ‘priority’ seats
  •  £11 for extra legroom seats

The highest charge for legroom certainly penalises tall people or those with mild mobility issues! Even for a group of four at the lowest rate the seat selection charges would add up to an extra £16 on a return booking, and that is before all the other extra charges you are likely to incur.

Further charges with Ryanair include but are not limited to:

Checked bags From £10 to £50 per bag per flight, depending on the route and size of bag + £5 drop-off fee

Sporting/musical equipment From £35 to £60 per item per flight

Excess baggage fee £10 per kilo

Airport check-in fee (if you fail to check in online) £50 per person per flight

Boarding card re-issue fee (if you check in online but fail to bring your printed boarding pass) £15 per person per flight

Flight change fee From £40 to £60 per person per flight

Name change fee £110 per person per flight (or £150 if made at the airport)

Priority boarding (not guaranteed) £5 per person per flight

Credit card fee 2% of total transaction

Infant fee £20 per infant per flight

On top of all that once you’re sitting in your seat and in the air, you will still be charged the 3rd most expensive food and drink prices in the European skies, beaten only by Spanish airline Iberia in second place and Icelandair in first.

Looking at the price of ONE standard meal of a sandwich, a packet of crisps, a glass of wine and a hot drink:

Icelandair - £14.45

Iberia - £14.05

And finally Ryanair - £13.60*

You can see how your seemingly cheap flight could end up being extremely expensive, and that’s why we warn anyone travelling with budget airlines needs to be extremely careful. Don’t just assume you are aware of all the extra charges already, conditions and charges change and there are many ‘hidden’ extras you may not be aware of.

Make sure you follow the awkward rules, make yourself aware of the figures and know the total long before you get to the airport so you can avoid any nasty surprises.

Finally, if you care about sitting together, it looks like you’ll have to pay the seat allocation fee after all – don’t rely on luck because it seems with Ryanair’s seat allocation service, it is possible the dice may be loaded.

Happy Flying!

*Data obtained from