Paying extra for seats is a waste in nine out of 10 cases
Passengers who pay extra to sit together when they fly are wasting their money in the vast majority of cases, a new Which? Travel investigation has found.
The consumer champion analysed the experiences of 3,357 economy passengers and found that, out of those who refused to pay the extra fee to select a seat, almost nine in 10 (86%) were seated together anyway.
That figure rises to 90% if Ryanair is excluded from the list of airlines.
The Irish budget carrier had by far the lowest proportion of passengers seated together if they had not paid extra for allocated seating, at just under half (46%).
The airline admits that it does not try to keep groups together, but has always denied actively splitting them up in order to boost its profits.
Which? Travel also asked the 10 most popular airlines that operate paid-for seating options whether or not they seat families, couples and groups together. All of them confirmed that they did with the exception of Ryanair and Wizz Air.
British Airways says: “We recommend that you reserve your seat as early as possible to avoid sitting separately from your family or friends’ during the booking process.”
However, 91% of BA customers who didn’t purchase allocated seating still got to sit together.
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) guidelines, say airlines should ‘aim to sit parents close to children’ and that parents should not have to pay to avoid being seated away from their child. But airlines are not currently obliged to follow this advice.
Which? has heard from parents who have been separated from children as young as four on flights.
Some airlines, including BA, Thomas Cook and TUI, state that children under 12 will always be seated with at least one adult.
But Ryanair makes it compulsory for at least one adult in the group to select a paid-for seat. They can then reserve free seats for up to four children.
When the CAA surveyed recent flyers last year, it found nearly one in five (18%) had paid extra for seat reservations because they were travelling with children.
The Royal Aeronautical Society Flight Operations Group (FOG) believes family members sat in different sections of the plane may lose precious time looking for one another during an emergency evacuation, putting themselves, and others, at risk.
UK Flight Safety Committee chief executive Dai Whittingham told Which? Travel that any airline that intentionally splits travelling companions up is at best unwise, and at worst risking fatal consequences by ‘putting its profits ahead of passenger safety’.
The CAA has already said it is concerned that passengers are spending £175m ‘unnecessarily’ a year paying for seats they would probably be given anyway. It also found that in some cases passengers with reduced mobility were paying extra to sit with their carer, despite airline regulations meaning this should happen free of charge.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Unless you are flying with Ryanair or Wizz Air or fancy a little extra legroom, it’s not worth paying more to choose your seat, as you’ll be seated next to your travelling companions anyway.
“Passengers with mobility issues should make their requirements clear to the airline, and be sure of your rights if they resist – the law is on your side.”