Airlines are failing to maintain social distancing between passengers even when middle seats could be kept free, it is claimed.
Many firms are still asking passengers to pay extra to sit with their families or social bubbles.
The probe by consumer champions Which? suggests carriers are flouting Department for Transport (DfT) guidelines designed to limit the spread of coronavirus.
© Provided by Daily Mail According to the most recent figures, Ryanair planes were 61 per cent full in the three months up to June 30 ¿ meaning there was room to separate passengers
According to the most recent figures, Ryanair planes were 61 per cent full in the three months up to June 30 – meaning there was room to separate passengers.
However, passenger groups complain they have been split up and forced to sit next to strangers on half-empty planes.
Worse, the budget carrier is still asking families to pay up to a £17 fee to sit together. Other airlines are also reportedly asking families to pay to reserve seats as a group.
The DfT is asking airlines to consider seat allocations that ‘reduce movement of passengers within the aircraft’.
But Ryanair said: ‘This is yet more false claims by Which?, the home of fake travel news. Which?, as usual, has its facts wrong.’
Wizz Air, a Hungarian airline with three bases in the UK, carried just 50 per cent of normal passenger levels in the three months leading up to June, according to the most recently-available data.
Although this is enough to keep every third seat empty, the carrier has not changed its policy of randomly allocating seats and still requires families to pay extra to stay together.
© Provided by Daily Mail Wizz Air has not changed its policy of randomly allocating seats and still requires families to pay extra to stay together
Although British Airways allows passengers to select a seat for free, they can only do so 24 hours before check-in unless they are a priority member.
Which? said BA, EasyJet and Jet2 usually manage to keep families together if they haven’t reserved seats.
But they have called on airlines to scrap random seat allocation policies to promote passenger safety.
A spokesman said: ‘If all airlines removed paid-for seats during the pandemic it will allow them to better allocate seats to keep different social bubbles apart where load factors allow. It will also surely minimise excess movement once on board which means, touch points and proximity to others will be lessened.’
Government guidelines encourages passengers to keep a one metre distance from others.
The DfT is also asking airlines to consider seat allocations that ‘reduce movement of passengers within the aircraft’ to ‘enable social social distancing among passengers of different households or support bubbles’.
Jane Wilson-Howarth, a GP and travel health expert, said: ‘It makes no sense at all to separate families and if airlines are charging more for allowing families to sit together they are being irresponsible.
‘The safest seating arrangement is indeed to seat families and couples together and space different family bubbles as far away from each other as possible throughout the plane.’
Jet2 said its seating policy has been designed to ‘maximise choice’. A spokesman added: ‘Where there is availability, family groups and couples will be prioritised’.
Ryanair did not respond to requests for comment.