A fee for sitting with your children

The British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is reviewing airline allocated seating polices after conducting consumer research that shows the current approach to allocated seating is causing confusion. The CAA research has been conducted among more than 4,000 consumers who flew as part of a group (of 2 or more people) in 2017. It presents interesting findings.

Nearly half of respondents report that the airline did not inform them before booking that they would need to pay more to ensure their group could sit together, while 10% say the carrier only informed them after they had booked. Another 10% say the airline never told them they may need to pay extra to guarantee sitting together.

These results are unsurprising as it is well-known that carriers hate transparency. Even so, many travelers appear to be naive about airlines’ behavior. Almost half of respondents believe the carrier would automatically allocate their group seats together.

Thus, they seem unaware that airlines try to squeeze as much money out of their pockets as possible. Carriers consider travelers ATMs rather than customers. Yet, only 46% of respondents felt negatively towards the carrier when they realized they would have to pay more to guarantee sitting together.

Other passengers are aware of airlines’ attitudes. Of those respondents who had paid extra to sit with their group together, 60% report they did so because of the risk that the airline might split their group up without paying more.

It is not surprising that Ryanair appears to be the worst carrier when it comes to splitting groups. It separated no less than 35% of people who did not pay extra to sit together, which is considerably more than any other airline. Flybe and TUI Airways (formerly Thomson Airways) are the airlines with the lowest percentages of people who were separated because they did not pay more for sitting together.

Approximately half of all passengers who sat together did not have to pay an additional charge to do so. However, 7% of respondents who ended up sitting together say they had to change seats either at check-in or on-board to avoid being sat apart.

Fortunately, the CAA will seek more information from carriers about their allocated seating practices to find out whether consumers are being treated fairly, and whether pricing policies are transparent.

“Airline seating practices are clearly causing some confusion for consumers,” says Andrew Haines, the CAA’s Chief Executive whose term of office is due to expire in this summer. And he adds: “Our research shows that some consumers are paying to sit together when, in fact, they might not need to.”

Tags: seat selection fees, fare transparency, airline seating practices

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