Budget carriers Ryanair, Wizz Air, Volotea, and easyJet have hit back at the Italian civil aviation authority (Ente Nazionale per l'Aviazione Civile - ENAC) for imposing fines of up to EUR50,000 euros (USD58,600) for alleged non-compliance with regulations compelling free seat allocation to minors and the disabled next to their carers.

The carriers have refuted as incorrect claims by ENAC last week that they were in default of the new regulations. They face penalties ranging from EUR10,000 (USD11,700) to a maximum of EUR50,000 for each individual dispute.

ENAC claimed the airlines had not yet, as prescribed and confirmed by an Italian court, changed their computer and operating systems and continued to request a supplement equal to the cost of an air ticket for the allocation of seats close to carers of minors and the disabled.

This was in addition to alleged violations found at Ryanair, which the ENAC said it would continue to investigate in the coming weeks. The ENAC earlier last week imposed a EUR35,000 (USD40,900) fine on the Irish carrier for “circumventing” regulations and continuing to charge supplements for the assignment of nearby seats. “The carrier has only modified a contractual provision, difficult to perceive by the passenger, which allows them not to pay or to obtain reimbursement of the increase in the price paid on the ticket, only after the outcome of a complex procedure, evidently elusive of the ENAC regulation and contrary to the provisions of the Regional Administrative Court,” the regulator said.

ENAC cancelled the seat surcharges by August 15, after the Italian court rejected a request by Ryanair in early August to freeze a regulation on the matter until a court hearing on September 8.

“Wizz Air has taken note of ENAC’s decision alleging Wizz Air’s non-compliance with the newly introduced regulation on the seating of minors. We are happy to confirm that our seating systems are set up to ensure that parents are seated together with their children at no extra charge. We are in the process of analysing the exact substance of ENAC’s concerns, as we have always stated this explicitly in the 'Important Notice' section of the Wizz Air booking flow,” a spokesperson told ch-aviation.

"easyJet believes it has acted in full compliance with the regulations in force and so any initiation of a procedure to impose any penalty is totally unfounded. easyJet assigns seats for families together which means that children under 12 and persons with reduced mobility are seated next to an accompanying adult at no additional cost," an easyJet spokesperson informed ch-aviation.

Volotea said it had examined the investigations initiated by ENAC and found its conclusion to be unfounded. “Volotea expects children to always sit next to one of the adults travelling with them. Furthermore, following the health uncertainty arising from the pandemic, to ensure the highest level of safety for all passengers and crews, Volotea ensures that passengers belonging to the same family sit close together, reducing the risk of contagion even more. In the event of the presence of passengers with disabilities, Volotea automatically guarantees the best available seat, next to the companion travelling with them. In both cases, the assignment of these places is completely free. The company, therefore, does not share the objections raised by ENAC and also remains at the disposal of the authority, in order to provide all the information necessary to clarify the conduct being audited,” Volotea said in a statement.

Ryanair said ENAC's claims were "incorrect" and "misleading". "Ryanair implemented temporary measures on August 13 to ensure adult passengers accompanying minors or special needs passengers have several options to avail (themselves) of free allocated seating," a spokeswoman said in an emailed comment to Reuters. She said this was a temporary solution "as it was impossible to fully amend the booking system in the unreasonable timeframe set by ENAC". She added: "It is misleading for ENAC to categorise its interference with the airline's commercial freedom to set prices as a safety issue."