The UK Civil Aviation Authority has 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.
The organisation 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.
The CAA 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 include:
- 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.
The CAA report revealed consumers were most likely to spend £5-£30 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.
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.”
The UK government promised action.
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.”