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Do airlines deliberately split up passengers who refuse to pay extra for allocated seating?

Do airlines deliberately split up passengers who refuse to pay extra for allocated seating?

As I travel alone much of the time I don’t give much thought to allocated seating as it doesn’t apply often unless it is for extra legroom. However, a recent flight out of Heathrow has changed that.


On this flight, there was the usual kerfuffle as passengers found their seats and amid all that, a little girl of around 12 years of age was distraught to find herself seated away from her family. She was constantly popping her head up in search of Mum. Mum, also distraught, was sending reassuring messages to her daughter across the rows.


The couple sitting in the A and B seats in the same row as Mum were reluctant to swap because they had paid for allocated seating to be together.


Mum beseeched the air hostess for help who, in the end, sorted out this crisis by moving amenable passengers around.


The scene was stressful for everyone who witnessed it and highlighted the dangers of not paying to sit together on a flight.


So it is with some relief to note that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has brought this issue to light by asking the questions we all want answers to.


Should airlines be charging for allocated seating?


The scenario I highlighted begs the question: should airlines even be charging for allocated seating when children are part of the party? 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.


According to a survey by The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), out of the 4,000 passengers asked, 18 per cent of passengers said they had been separated from their travelling companions when they chose not to pay to sit together. Interestingly the incidence of this occurred far more with Ryanair where 35 per cent of respondents experienced the separation. That’s almost twice the average.


So when did paying for a seat come into being?


It all started in 2011 when low cost airline, easyjet, rolled out BOSS – which stands for “bums on selected seats”. This initiative got a thumbs up for passengers like myself who dreaded firstly, having to join in the chaotic run to board the plane and secondly, the ensuing scrum to find a seat. Even then there was no assurance of being seated with your group.


After having bedded their passengers into BOSS, the airline launched the “pay extra to choose your seat” system in 2012.


It was a successful punt and a huge money-spinner. Other airlines started to do it too and the CAA say £390 million a year is now spent by UK fliers to ensure they sit together.

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