I’m so pleased that the CAA is launching an investigation into the seat selection fee charges levied by airlines to allow families to sit together.
Honestly, I think the seat selection fee one of the biggest rackets going when it comes to family travel. We’ve had two recent flights where airlines have asked us to pay to select seats – and specifically to pay to sit together. I think both fees were unfair, and here’s why:
BA Seat Selection Fee
Last summer, I flew with Flea from London Heathrow to LA. There were only two of us on the booking, and we were flying with BA, in business class. In Club World there are two seats on each aisle and two pairs of seats in the centre of the cabin.
Despite booking around six months ahead, when it came time to confirm our seat reservations, 30 days ahead of the flight, what do you know? Flea was seated a row behind me, on the other side of the aisle.
Which – if you think about it – means not only was I sitting on my own, but so was Flea. Also, so was the guy sitting next to me. And the woman sitting next to Flea. It also meant that it would have been perfectly possible to seat us together in any two of the four middle seats in the cabin.
According to the CAA, around a third of families are split up on flights. The airlines say it’s completely unintentional, that their systems will seat families together wherever possible.
The British Airways seat selection fee is £62 per person. For two people, on the outbound and inbound flights, that’s almost £250. Given I’d already spent several thousand pounds on flights and car hire with BA, you can see why I was a bit miffed.
Fortunately I checked the airline’s regulations and because Flea was under 12 at the time of our outbound flight, she had to be seated next to an adult in the party. I double checked with BA on Twitter and was told that we this was definitely the policy, and seats would be changed at check-in.
No matter what the circumstances, Flea and I would be seated together. So why did the computer system separate a child from the only adult travelling on the same booking? And then ask me to pay to guarantee seats I was already entitled to?
TUI Seat Selection Fee
Later the same year, I flew with my parents and Flea to Florida with TUI, on a Thomson flight.
This time, we booked fairly late and as it was a package trip, we took the flights we were offered. I didn’t choose to pay extra for us to be seated together.
So I wasn’t surprised when it came to check in and choose our seats. We were scattered across three rows of the plane, and none of us were seated next to each other. Naturally, given the option, I’d like to sit near to Flea.
But that’s not the only problem. I was hoping to have at least two seats together so someone would be on hand to help my Dad. My step-father has COPD, is partially sighted, and has mobility issues. TUI was aware of this, since we HAD booked additional assistance at both airports.
The email from TUI suggested that some “upgrades” were available, via the call centre. Fair enough, I thought. I’ll upgrade Mum and Dad and pay a seat selection fee if that’s the only way to sit together.
I telephoned, and explained the situation. It took about 20 minutes of back and forth, but eventually the call centre agent managed to find us upgraded “premium economy” seats on the outbound flight and economy seats on the flight home.
We weren’t all together but we were in two pairs. The upgrade and seat selection fee cost £140. Not ideal, but needs must.
Except — was it entirely necessary?
Why did I pay the £140?
On our Thomson flight home from Florida, there were a grand total of 81 passengers on our flight. It was so quiet that the cabin crew sat along the back rows of the plane, watching movies.
We had an entire row to ourselves – each. We could have taken four rows each, if we’d wanted.
So I am absolutely perplexed as to why the TUI online booking system didn’t allocate my family seats that were together.
Because – demonstrably – THEY WERE AVAILABLE.
This was not a case of, “oh, the computer made a mistake but the flight was full, and we can’t fix it”. This was a case of “the computer set out to seat you separately, and then invited you to pay to sit together”.
To make matters worse, this wasn’t just a computer error. It was compounded by the fact that the call centre staff clearly gave me incorrect information. They told me it was impossible to get four seats together. That the flight was very busy. That the best they could do was give us two pairs of seats, which I’d need to pay for.
None of which was true.
I complained to TUI after we got home, but never got a response. It’s beyond disappointing and would put me off ever paying a TUI seat selection fee again. Because it definitely seems to me to just be an exercise in charging money for something that may or may not be necessary.
I’m not sure what the legality is around airlines charging families to sit together. But I can certainly tell you it FEELS like we’re getting fleeced here. I can’t helping thinking this is just a sneaky way for airlines to bump up ticket revenue without increasing their headline prices.
Is it just me? Or have you also been ripped off by airline seat selection fees for families?