The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has today published its initial review of how airlines allocate seats to passengers.

CAA research concluded that, for most people, having to pay in advance to sit together was one of their biggest concerns.

The findings were further reinforced by the number of consumers who contacted the CAA directly for advice. 

We commissioned further research with a representative sample of UK adults, which found customers were confused. Seating policies varied between airlines operating in the UK, which meant those flying with some airlines were more likely to report being separated from their group than those flying with others.

Our team has continued to build evidence with a consumer engagement survey, giving respondents an accessible way to engage with us on this important issue.

Key concerns raised:

  • Passengers with reduced mobility:  some may have paid to be sat together with a carer when the airline would have sat them together for free.  
  • Families with children: parents often highlighted concerns about being separated from their children - particularly those under 12 - when guidance states they should be sat together. 
  • Transparency:  people might not always understand the likelihood of being split up, leading them potentially to pay the optional fee even when the chances of being split up are low 

Our evidence shows: 

  • Consumers were most likely to spend £5.00 to £30.00 per seat, per journey, but seats could cost up to £100.00.
  • Collectively, consumers may be paying between £160 million to £390 million per year for allocated seating.
  • While some consumers may gain the certainty of knowing they will be sat together once they have paid, people may be spending around £74 million to £175 million unnecessarily as they would have been seated together automatically.
  • All airlines (top 10 based on passenger numbers) told us they had received complaints about allocated seating, with one sent almost 3,000 complaints last year

Tim Johnson, Policy Director at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “The practice of charging for allocated seating has clearly become part of airlines' pricing strategies, which can impact especially on certain groups, such as those with accessibility needs and those travelling with young children. We are also concerned about how transparent and easy it is to compare prices and make an informed buying decision.

“Today we are proposing a new framework, following engagement with stakeholders, which will be used to assess airline seating practices. This includes transparency, options to add information about travelling with children, older people and those with accessibility needs.”

Liz Sugg, UK Aviation Minister, commented: “Passengers rightly expect to be charged fairly for services and allocated seating is clearly a concern for those flying.   

“This report shows the Civil Aviation Authority is making good progress in working with airlines to ensure that seating practices are as transparent as possible.”

Alongside the new framework, over the coming months we will be working with airlines to explore ways to make prices clearer and more transparent. We will also be working with other regulators on the use of allocated seating algorithms.  We will continue to investigate and oversee safety requirements in this area.”

A copy of the full report can be found here: Paid-for allocated seating in aviation: an update  

 

-ENDS-

Notes to Editors:

European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material refers to the carriage of “special categories of passengers” which sets out procedures for the carriage of special categories of passengers (SCPs), including the seating of children. 

In addition, the CAA recommends that young children and infants who are accompanied by adults should ideally be seated in the same seat row as the adult. Where this is not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults. This is because the speed of an emergency evacuation may be affected by adults trying to reach their children.

To estimate the level of spending that may not be necessary, we took the number of people who were first notified about purchasing seats before the check in process but did not buy a seat, then calculated the proportion of this group that sat together anyway. We used this estimate as a proxy for the number of people buying seat allocations that would have sat together anyway without paying extra to do so. 

Using this approach, we calculated that 73% of people would have sat together anyway. From our survey we also know that 38% paid for their allocated seats in the knowledge that they had been split up (therefore not unnecessarily spending money). From these observations we can estimate that 45% of total paid for seat allocations are not necessary. We then applied our estimated annual cost of paid for seats, which ranged from £160 million to £390 million per year.