Which? has blasted airlines over social distancing policies, saying some carriers do not seat passengers apart even when there is room to do so.
The magazine found passengers were being sat next to strangers even when there were spare seats onboard. It singled out Wizz Air and Ryanair for splitting family members and social bubbles apart unless they paid for assigned seats. Which? said both these policies went against government guidelines.
Researchers said airline load factors backed up anecdotal evidence. It argued that Wizz Air’s load factor in April, May and June averaged 55.5%, which would allow for “at least every third seat to remain empty”.
However, the magazine found several examples of groups that were split up or single passengers allocated places next to strangers despite there being space elsewhere.
Wizz Air told Which? it “fully meets all local and international health requirements” and has taken “every precaution to ensure that the health, safety and wellbeing of its passenger and crew is protected”. However, it admitted customers must pay to guarantee seats together, but that “children under 14 will be seated with one parent, free of charge”.
Ryanair said: “We cannot revise these pre-selected seating arrangements because boarding passes are issued up to 28 days prior to departure.”
It added that it complied with all Covid-19 health guidelines and that “social distancing is not possible on board an aircraft”.
A Which? analysis of 3,357 people in 2019 found 46% of Ryanair passengers who booked as a group were actively seated together if they did not pay for their seats.
“Which? believes that if Ryanair were to reissue seats prior to boarding, it could attempt to proactively keep people apart where possible, which would also be helped by keeping social bubbles together on one row,” the magazine said.
It concluded: “If all airlines removed paid-for seats during the pandemic it would allow them to better allocate seats to keep different social bubbles apart where load factors allow.
“It will also minimise excess movement once on board when passengers switch seats which means, touchpoints and proximity to others will be lessened.”