A few thoughts on airline seating

The grand old topic of Airline Seating really does seem to stir up emotions; and I am sure this post will contribute to that.

For years now, many airlines have seen the opportunity to gain purely additional revenue by charging customers to select their desired seats in advance of when online check-in opens. Of course if you are travelling in a premium cabin, have purchased a higher-fared ticket, or sit at the “higher-end” of an airlines loyalty program; you won’t have to pay any extra. Unfortunately for the majority of us that is simply not the case.

When can you book your seats?

Typically, airlines release their flights 336 days in advance and you should be able to book your seats right away. Either for free, or for a “small” additional charge. If you don’t want to pay, you’ll find you will be able to select from the remaining seats available when the Online Check-In (OLCI) opens… usually 24-hours prior to the flights departure. If you’re travelling with friends or family and want to seat together, it is usually worth booking your seats as soon as possible in order to avoid disappointment.

What do I get when reserving a seat?

This is the part that does confuse many. By paying to reserve a seat, it doesn’t actually guarantee that you’ll be relaxing in 20B when you step aboard the aircraft. On some carriers reserving a seat actually only guarantees the seat type as opposed to a specific seat number. Airlines always reserve the right to change your seat due to “operational reasons” and this is fully stated within the terms and conditions which are very long. Let’s be honest… who actually reads through the entire small print?

Why does it happen?

Airlines sometimes need to change seats due to operational reasons. I’m not going to go into specifics, but issues such as an aircraft change can have huge implications on the seating arrangements. There is also certain times when airlines need to restrict the weight on a flight. The flight may be fairly empty, but weight still needs to be evenly distributed across the aircraft for take-off and landing. Although when you’re up the skies above, you are usually able to move around.

What happens if my seat is changed? Can I complain?

If you seat has been changed by the airline, you could complain. But, chances are if you originally booked a window-seat (20A) and are still seated by the window, but three rows back (23A); then you won’t have much luck as the airline would have still seated you in the seat-type which you paid to reserve. If you were moved to a middle or aisle seat however; you’d probably have a strong case and might be able to get your money back at least.

It happens all the time

Probably on each flight. The amount of customers I have witnessed when flying whom march up to a gate agent to complain about their seat number has been changed is beyond me. A few minutes later and they still look annoyed; but quietly walk back to their seat. As long as the airline have stated that seats are subject to change due to operational reasons; then it’s unfortunately nothing more than can be done.

How much does it cost to reserve a seat in advance?

There really is no straight answer as it varies by airlines and potentially down to the aircraft type which you are flying on. The majority of carriers charge a flat rate of around £25 for the privilege, but a few have a good idea of what seats are the most popular; and will charge up to £50 for the privilege to sit in a standard Economy seat. Of course extra leg room and exit row seats are even more. In reality it is a bit excessive, but the number of people who spend an extra £100+ on guaranteeing the type of seat they will have is really surprising.

What do you think?

Are you someone who likes to pay and reserve you seat in advance; or do you just hope for the best when check-in rolls around? What do you think about T&C’s which mean you are only guaranteeing the seat-type rather than the actual location? Let me know in the comments below.

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