Possible Hack to Not be Assigned the Middle Seat on Ryanair

by SharonKurheg

My husband Joe and I have admittedly never been customers of Ryanair. They don’t fly passengers to/from the U.S. and we don’t travel within Europe a whole lot (and if we do, chances are it’d be by rail), which makes the possibility of flying Ryanair pretty remote for us.

Ryanair is an ultra-low-cost carrier, which means you can expect to pay for each individual “service” they offer, including checking in at the airport, checking a bag, bringing a carry-on bag onboard, and, of course, choosing your seat when you make your reservation.

Like with any airline that uses this system (and many of them do), if you don’t want to pay to choose your seat, you’re sort of in limbo, seatwise, until a seat is assigned to you. Also like most airlines, when you choose this option to be assigned a seat, chances are excellent that you’re going to get a middle seat, mainly because many of the aisle and window seats have already been “purchased” by the time it’s your turn for the airline to assign you a seat. You didn’t pay for that “privilege,” so fair enough.

a group of people sitting in an airplaneAccording to Ryanair

Ryanair’s rules for checking in are simple enough:

If you have pre-reserved a seat, you can check in online up to 60 days before scheduled departure. However, your outbound and return flights must be within those 60 days of departure. If you have not reserved a seat and this is being assigned to you randomly, check-in opens 24 hours before your flight and closes 2 hours before.

Assigned seating quirk

However, unlike other airlines that assign your seat, a few people have noticed something quirky about Ryanair’s seating. If you check in as soon as you’re able, you’re much more apt to get an aforementioned middle seat. But if you wait to check in until just a few hours before your flight, you have a much better chance of getting a window or aisle seat!

Is this for real?

Well, maybe? I started looking around the internet and it’s definitely not an isolated phenomenon. a plane taking off from a runway— Way back in April, 2018, Hacker News had an entire discussion about the airline’s algorithm and how it favored those who checked in earlier to get middle seats over those who checked in later, if both originally had unassigned seats.

— Then, in September 2019, there was a discussion about it on Stackexchange.com (heads up that at the time, Ryanair let you check in 2 days in advance. That’s no longer the case):

Question: Ryanair lets you check in 2 days before the flight. Then it gives you some seats. Are those random or do they save the window and aisle seats in case someone buys them? My strategy is to leave it until the latest possible time but I had mixed results. When should I check in to maximise my chances of getting a window or aisle seat?

Answer: Most of the middle seats will be gone, so you will have a better chance of either a window or aisle seat, or a luxury seat with extra legroom. This has worked for me before.

— In April, 2024, The Independent wrote an entire article about the concept. They appeared to claim it was possible some of the time.

— A website called moneysavinganswers.com agreed in May, 2024:

How to get a window or aisle seat
Unless you’ve paid for an upgraded fare, checkin for Ryanair flights opens 24 hours before departure and closes 2 hours before you’re due to take off. If you haven’t paid to select a seat, Ryaniar’s random seat allocation will typically fill the most undesirable seats first, then market an upgrade to you.

Is it a hack?

I think we can give this one a “definite maybe.”

If you think about it, if your flight has 30 rows, with seats A-B-C on one side and D-E-F on the other, that leaves 60 middle seats open (unless someone chose a middle seat and although there apparently are some people who prefer middle seats, I still think they’re few and far between). But for argument’s sake, let’s say 50 of those middle seats are open, and there are still 5 each open window and aisle seats.

Ryanair, which is ALLL about making as much money as possible, isn’t going to want to assign those window and aisle seats to those who chose not to pay for assigned seats, unless they have to. So it would make sense that if you check in at the 24-hour moment, you’re going to get a middle seat, since so few people want them. This “filling up the middle seats” would continue, because there’s always the chance that someone will want to purchase a ticket last-minute, and if they’re willing to pay to choose their seat, they’re going to want a window or aisle seat.

But towards the very end of the check-in period, with less and less chance of someone making a last-minute booking, Ryanair would be more willing to assign people those seats at that time.

We can’t check the hypothesis, of course, because we would have to have tickets, unassigned seating, and then check in. But if it’s something people have been talking about since at least 2018, I’d say there’s a decent chance it holds water.

Have you ever tried it?

What about you? Have you ever tried this hack to get a window or aisle seat on Ryanair? Did it work?

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