In Brief

Airline seating policy under investigation by regulator

Some companies allegedly split up groups to make money

The Civil Aviation Authority has announced an investigation into airline seating policy, after it was revealed that some companies deliberately split up groups of passengers so they have to pay to sit together.

A CAA survey of more than 4,000 passengers who travelled as part of a group on ten airlines last year found just over half of respondents were told they would have to pay more to sit together before they booked. A total of 18% said they had been separated from their travelling companions when they chose not to pay to sit together.

Among Ryanair passengers, 35% of those polled were separated from their group.

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.”

The practice of paying for your seat is a fairly new phenomenon. A 2011 project by easyJet codenamed BOSS (“bums on selected seats”) trialled the then-revolutionary concept for a low-cost airline of allocated seating. The following year easyJet introduced a “pay extra to choose your seat” system. The Independent travel correspondent Simon Calder notes that they system “found broad acceptance, and raised revenue, with other airlines soon following suit”.

The CAA is investigating whether airlines make it clear when customers book that they will need to pay to sit together; whether undue pressure is applied to persuade people to pay when they might not need to, as appears to have been the case with Ryanair in the past; and whether any airlines are deliberately splitting up groups.

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