Airlines face a clamp down on using of algorithms that split up families on flights, forcing them to pay extra if they want to sit together.

Digital minister Margot James last week condemned the software as “a very cynical, exploitative means . . . to hoodwink the general public”.

She told a parliamentary communications committee: “Some airlines have set an algorithm to identify passengers of the same surname travelling together. They’ve had the temerity to split the passengers up, and when the family want to travel together they are charged more.”

The government’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation is set to be launched this week to “identify and address any areas where clearer guidelines and regulation is needed” to govern the use of data and data-enabled technologies.

The Civil Aviation Authority is also investigating how seats are allocated by airlines flying out of the UK in an effort to clamp down on any sharp practices.

Officials are understood to have written to large carriers asking how their algorithms work, particularly when it comes to separating passengers travelling together, The Sunday Times reported.

The aviation regulator last month disclosed that customers were wasting up to £175 million a year on unnecessary allocated seating fees.

Almost half (45%) of people who pay to sit next to their companions would be placed together anyway, the regulator claimed.

It wants airlines to tell passengers the likelihood of being split up unless they pay extra to guarantee a seat.

The newspaper recently revealed how some airlines are charging couples and families extra to ensure they can sit together.

In one case, a couple on a transatlantic flight were automatically allocated seats several rows apart and had to pay more than £100 to be able to sit together. The seat they paid extra for had been unoccupied anyway.

MoreAirlines raking in as much as £390 million through paid-for seating [Oct 18]

Confusion over airline allocated seating policies sparks CAA review [Feb 18]