Airlines have been called out for splitting up families on flights to force them to pay more to sit together.

This week, UK business secretary Greg Clark slammed airlines for using "evil algorithms" targeting families to maximise profit.

Several budget airlines have been accused of allocating families seats that are not next to each other so they will stump up the cash to pay for allocated seats that are together.

Clark has said that it is "not fair" that airlines are using these algorithms to detect people with the same surnames to sit them apart.

Advertisement

He also added that carriers were doing it so passengers are "essentially nudged to pay more to sit together".

Speaking at a Huffington Post fringe event at the UK Conservative party's conference in Birmingham, Mr Clark explained: "It's possible, not for some individual evil genius, but for an algorithm, for a computer program, to know so much about your individual behaviour and your propensity to withstand any price increases that you could have pricing that is generated that really can squeeze many people for whom I think it wouldn't be fair to be treated in such a way."

His comments come just months after the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched an investigation into seating policies after it was revealed that around 38million passengers have been caught up in a $800million airline seat booking racket.

The official research, from the CAA, showed that an estimated five million group bookings were split up when they flew with major airlines in the past 12 months.

'Evil algorithms': UK Business Secretary Greg Clark weighed into the debate on airline booking practices. Photo / Ken Jack, Getty Images
'Evil algorithms': UK Business Secretary Greg Clark weighed into the debate on airline booking practices. Photo / Ken Jack, Getty Images

A further eight million groups of family and friends were forced into paying extra charges of up to $50 per seat to ensure that they could sit with their travelling companions. That equates to an estimated 38million seats.

Meanwhile another report earlier this year claimed that airlines that charge families to sit together on planes could be compromising safety if there is an emergency on board.

The Royal Aeronautical Society said that if families do not pay the extra charges and end up sitting apart, children could be left without the assistance of an adult during an evacuation of the aircraft, which could slow the process down.

The report, called Emergency Evacuation of Commercial Passenger Aeroplanes, stated: "Operators should not charge for family members to sit together.

Advertisement

"This is especially important when adults and their children need to be seated near to each other if an emergency situation occurs, such an evacuation, decompression or air turbulence, when the assistance and supervision of an adult is likely to be of paramount importance.

"The UK CAA decided that the seating of family groups should be such that family members are not seated remotely from each other, since group members who are separated might seek each other out in an emergency evacuation, which might have a serious impact on passenger flow to emergency exits.

"Children accompanied by adult(s) should ideally be seated in the same seat row as the adult. In twin-aisle aeroplanes, children and accompanying adults should not be separated by more than one aisle.

"When this is not possible, then children should not be seated more than one seat row forward or aft from accompanying adults."