UK aviation regulator reviews airline seating policies

February 05, 2018
CAA seating review
Photo: Ruthann/commons.

Families and other groups travelling together are finding that confusing airline seating practices mean that breaking up is not so hard to do.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority is reviewing he fairness and transparency of airline allocated  seating polices after a survey found the current approach left passengers confused about whether they would they would be able to sit with other members of their group.

The survey of more than 4,000 consumers flying as part of a group of two or more in the past year found airlines took different approaches to guaranteeing people could sit together  or even telling them they had to pay.

Those travellers who did not pay were also more likely to be separated from their group on some airlines than others, with Ryanair, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic the lead offenders (see table).

“Airline seating practices are clearly causing some confusion for consumers,’’ CAA chief executive Andrew Haines said in releasing the study.

“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.”

allocated seating CAA
Source: YouGov Plc.

While more than half of the survey  respondents reported their airline informed them before they booked their flight that they would need to pay to ensure their group could sit together, 10 percent were not told until after they booked and a further 10 per cent were not told at all.

Almost half believed that their airline would automatically allocate them seats together while two in five thought their airline would not automatically sit them together.

Among the other findings:

  • Almost half of respondents (46 per cent) felt negatively towards the airline when they realised they would have to pay more to guarantee sitting together
  • About half of all passengers who sat together did not have to pay an additional charge to do so but 7 percent of respondents  said that they had to change seats either at check-in or on-board to avoid being separated.
  • 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.

The CAA said it would seek more information from airlines to discover whether consumers were  being treated fairly and whether pricing policies were transparent.

Also on the authority’s agenda for 2018 are issues such as improving access to air travel for people with disabilities and ticketing terms and conditions.