04 February, 2018

Fees for allocated seating is under investigation in the UK

The days of hefty surcharges or fees to book a particular seat on a so called low-cost carrier may soon be over.  The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched a review of airline allocated seating polices yesterday, following consumer research that showed the current approach to allocated seating is causing confusion.

The CAA research of over 4,000 consumers who have flown as part of a group (of two or more people) in the last year, found that: 

Just over half of respondents reported that their airline informed them before they booked their flight that they would need to pay to ensure their group could sit together.

Ten percent of respondents said that they had been informed after they booked; a further ten per cent said that they were never made aware by their airline that they may need to pay more to guarantee sitting together 

Although the vast majority of respondents were aware that they might not be able to sit together even if they booked as a group, almost half believed that their airline would automatically allocate them seats together, however, two in five respondents thought that their airline would not automatically sit them together.

Around half of all passengers who sat together did not have to pay an additional charge to do so. However, seven per cent of respondents that ended up sitting together said that they had to change seats either at check-in or on-board to avoid being sat apart.

Different airlines may behave differently. Consumers flying with some airlines were more likely to report being separated from their group than others.

Of the group of respondents that paid extra to sit together, six in ten reported that they did so because of the risk that their airline might split their group up.

Almost half of respondents (46%) felt negatively towards the airline when they realised they would have to pay more to guarantee sitting together.

 As the body responsible for protecting and promoting the interests of consumers travelling by air, the Civil Aviation Authority will seek more information from airlines about their allocated seating practices to find out whether consumers are being treated fairly, and whether pricing policies are transparent.  

Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of the CAA, said: “Airline seating practices are clearly causing some confusion for consumers.  Airlines are within their rights to charge for allocated seats, but if they do so it must be done in a fair, transparent way.  Our research shows that some consumers are paying to sit together when, in fact, they might not need to.

 “It also suggests that consumers have a better chance of being sat together for free with some airlines than with others. The research shows that it is the uncertainty around whether their group will be split up by the airline that is driving consumers to pay for an allocated seat.  

“Findings from our research show that UK consumers collectively may be paying between £160-390m per year for allocated seating. Of those paying, two-thirds spent between £5 and £30 per seat and a further 8% paid £30 or more. Our work will consider whether or not these charges are fair and transparent. 

“As part of the review, we will be asking airlines to provide information on their policies and practices.  We will be looking into how airlines decide where to seat passengers that have booked as part of a group and whether any airlines are pro-actively splitting up groups of passengers when, in fact, they could be sat together.  We will not hesitate to take any necessary enforcement action should it be required at the end of the review.”

The CAA is also publishing information that will help consumers travelling in groups to better understand their chances of sitting together without paying extra to do so.  We are encouraging consumers to use this information and to share their experiences and concerns about seating on our dedicated webpage https://consultations.caa.co.uk/policy-development/airline-seating-allocations/

Other reviews and reports will be carried out by the CAA during 2018, include into airline practices including allocated seating, improving access to air travel for people with disabilities, and ticketing terms and conditions.

Chances of being separated if not paying extra to guarantee seats by airline
 Total respondents who flew with this airlinePeople who didn't pay more to sit together and WERE separated from their group
Base: All GB adults who have flown as part of a group where they were the ticket holder in the last year431618%
British Airways (BA)45615%
Monarch Airlines11912%
Thomas Cook27515%
TUI Airways (previously Thomson Airways)38312%
Virgin Atlantic13118%
*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 14,716 adults, of which 4,296 have flown as part of a group where they were the ticket holder in the last year. Fieldwork was undertaken between 28th December 2017 - 9th January 2018.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

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