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Ryanair random seat allocation: Is it better if you check in later?

Simon Calder’s Travel

“I have heard that the later you leave it to check in with Ryanair, the higher the chance of avoiding a middle seat,” Mick G writes.

“Is that correct?”

Here’s the context. Many of us who fly with Europe’s biggest budget airline choose not to pay for a specific seat. This is despite the multiple invitations to do so, and warnings of the consequences should we not avail of the service – which costs a minimum of £4.50.

Undeterred, we take our chances in the “random” distribution of passengers in unassigned seats. If you decline all invitations to pay for a seat, the airline’s reservations system will assign you one when you check in online – which must be online between 24 hours and two hours ahead of the flight. Will it be:

  • A or F, the window seats in each row of six?
  • C or D, the aisle, with easy access to stretch your legs, etc?
  • B or E, middle seats where you barely have armrest rights?

I have never met anyone who prefers a middle seat to a window or aisle (unless it also came with extra legroom); but conversely couples who pay to sit together will select a window or aisle seat, plus a middle.

Ancillary revenue – paying for stuff beyond the basic seat – is a crucial element of Ryanair’s profits. The option of random seating is illustrated by dice being rolled. Don’t say the airline didn’t warn you about the likelihood of a middle seat if you insist on rolling with the fortunes of the skies.

“Before continuing with random allocation please be advised:

  • High chance you’ll be sitting in the middle seat.
  • You might sit apart from your travel companions.
  • Unlikely to be in the front or back of the aircraft.”

(That last line is relevant. Since Brexit, being in the centre of the plane rather than forward or aft isn’t ideal. Long waits at passport control are now standard, so leaving rapidly by the front or rear stairs can save plenty of time on arrival.)

Should we blame Ryanair for allocating middle seats as a kind of punishment for parsimonious passengers? Not at all. Right up until check-in closes, the airline is open to bids from passengers who recant while checking in online and are suddenly prepared to pay. They deserve the widest amount of choice for a window or aisle seat. Why would an airline give away a benefit for which others will pay?

Mick’s hypothesis is this: with a system that is geared to assigning…

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