Sorry for not posting, I was away last week. Here's a question for any aviation experts amongst you.
On boarding the plane (Ryanair!) I noticed that three rows of seats near the front of the plane were being guarded by a stewardess who would not let anyone sit in them. Being the inquisitive sort I enquired why this was so and she replied triumphantly:
"Captains orders! It's for balancing the plane."
Once again on the return flight, three rows were blocked off at the front of the plane, but this time the occupation of three rows at the back was not allowed either and I overheard same reason being given to several irate passengers.
Now whilst I admit that I do not have any qualification in aeronautical engineering, nor have I ever flown anything bigger than a paraglider. I do however possess a small amount of common sense, a basic knowledge of the principle of levers and loads of healthy scepticism.
I imagine that the mass of the plane should be roughly equally distributed around its centre of gravity so that it remains level in flight, but I don't believe for a moment that you can 'balance' an airliner by having three empty rows of seats when the luggage is still being loaded in the hold and you do not know the mass of the individual passengers. A small plane, say an eight seater would be that sensitive, but not a Boeing 737. (I'm even more certain that you can't balance anything by moving people from both the front and the back!)
I suspect that the real reason is either to reduce the amount of cleaning required (mind you, with a 25 minute turnaround do they really do any?) or more likely to speed up the trolley sales by having fewer rows of customers to deal with. (The damn thing seems to go up and down all through the flight). A third possibility might be to make it more difficult for families to sit together, thus persuading them to pay extra for 'priority boarding' next time.
If anyone knows the answer then please let me know...