being charged to sit together on planes

I’m so pleased that the CAA is launching an investigation into charges levied by airlines to allow families to sit together.

Honestly, I think it’s one of the biggest rackets going.

BA Select Your Seat: Ripoff #1

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. This means there are two seats on each aisle and four 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, and so was the guy sitting next to me.

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.


BA wanted to charge £62 per person to request seats next to one another. If we’d both paid that, on both outward and inbound flights, that means an additional cost of 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 allocated appropriately 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 select your seat florida

TUI Select Your Seat: Ripoff #2

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. So I wasn’t surprised when it came to check in. The online ‘select your seat’ tool showed both inbound and outbound flights as being full, and our family were spread across three rows.

There wasn’t a single seat I could request to put us all on the same row, or even on adjacent rows.

Naturally, given the option, I’d like to sit near to Flea. But that’s not the only reason we want to be seated as a group.

My Dad has COPD, is partially sighted, and has mobility issues. You can see why I might want to be seated near to him, so I can help if it’s needed. Also my Dad really needs an aisle seat. He doesn’t have the mobility to be manoeuvring in and out of a centre seat.

The email from TUI suggested upgrades were available, via the call centre. I called and explained the situation. It took about 20 minutes of back and forth, but eventually the call centre agent managed to find us upgrade seats on the outbound flight and economy seats on the flight home.

We weren’t all together but we were in two pairs. The total cost was around £140. Ouch, right?

Still, needs must.

Except — was it entirely necessary?

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 or five 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 wasn’t 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.

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 select your seat options for families? 



Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.