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UK regulator to probe seat allocations


The UK civil aviation regulator (CAA) has launched a review of airline allocated seating polices after conducting consumer research that showed widespread confusion among the traveling public.

The CAA conducted interviews with more than 4,000 passengers who had flown as part of a group in the last year.

The regulator found that slightly more than 50% of passengers reported the airline told them they would need to pay to ensure the group could sit together; 10% were informed they would need to pay after booking; and a further 10% said they were never made aware they might need to pay more to guarantee sitting together.

Although the vast majority of respondents knew they might not be able to sit together, even if they booked as a group, almost half believed the airline would automatically allocate them seats together.

Almost half of the respondents (46%) felt negatively toward the airline after realizing they would have to pay more to guarantee seats together.

The percentage of people who did not pay more to sit together—and were subsequently separated—varied considerably among airlines, ranging from 12% (regional carrier Flybe, now-defunct leisure carrier Monarch and leisure operator TUI Airways) to 35% (Irish LCC Ryanair).

“Airline seating practices are clearly causing some confusion for consumers,” CAA chief executive Andrew Haines said. “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.”

He added: “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.”

Haines said, “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.”

In a statement, Ryanair said it is “happy to participate in any review by the CAA into seating policy. Our policy is very clear for our customers and seats can be purchased from just €2 ($2.50) while children traveling in families get free allocated seats.”

UK LCC easyJet said it “understands how important it is that people are seated together and we will fully cooperate with the CAA’s review. Unlike some airlines, if passengers choose not to pay to select their seats, easyJet’s seating system is programmed to try and seat families together when they check-in online by using an algorithm.

“If a passenger does leave checking in until close to the time of departure and all of the seats have been allocated to other passengers, we will try to allocate as many of the group together as we can at the airport and, if necessary, will ask other passengers if they are prepared to move once they are on board.”

British Airways said it offers free seat selection to all customers 24 hours before their flight.

“Customers traveling with infants can choose their seats from the point of booking. We also allocate seats for families traveling with children three days before the flight to ensure they can sit together.”

Regional carrier Flybe said it would always try to accommodate families and groups being seated together, especially if traveling with young children. However, this could prove difficult on busy flights with a high number of passengers who had chosen to pay for specific pre-booked seats.



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