The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has today launched a review of airline seat policies and how airlines handle charges to sit together on flights.
The move comes following consumer research showed many people are being told by their airline they would need to pay extra if they want to sit together on flights.
Of the 4000 people surveyed the CAA found that over half said their airline informed them before they booked their flight that they would need to pay to ensure their group could sit together with 2 in 5 of those respondents under the impression that their airline would not sit them together if they didn’t pay.
It has become normal now for an airline to charge extra for an allocated seat with prices ranging from a few pounds for a Ryanair standard seat to £30 for an extra legroom seat on Flybe.com. This is in addition to your airline ticket.
Notably, some airlines like Jet2 allocate seats for free before check-in which can be changed or upgraded for a fee.
Airlines often say they can’t guarantee you will be sat with other members of your party in an attempt to get you to pay the extra fee.
As the CAA is responsible for protecting and promoting the interests of consumers travelling by air it says it 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.
The CAA says it will be conducting a number reviews in 2018 into airline practices including allocated seating, improving access to air travel for people with disabilities, and ticketing terms and conditions.
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.”
CAA Consumer research 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