British Airways to trial ‘automatic check-in’ at Heathrow and Gatwick

British Airways announced the launch of a new ‘automatic check-in’ service.  This is being trialled on a selection of routes from both Heathrow and Gatwick, including Vienna, Copenhagen, some Canadian routes, Cancun and Mauritius.

I am not desperately keen, as I will explain.

British Airways

This is how it works, to quote from BA’s news release:

6 days before travel, eligible customers will be sent an invitation to opt-in, asking them to set their preferences.

At -48hrs before departure the option to be automatically checked-in closes.

Between -48hrs and -26hrs seat assignment will take place and customers will be automatically checked-in.

Customers departing from London Heathrow Terminal 5 will be sent an email with boarding pass attachment at -25hrs.

All remaining customers will be sent email at -25hrs confirming check-in and asking how they would like to receive their boarding pass.

Can you see the snag here?  You receive no option to allocate your own seat.  This is not an issue for BA status customers, of course, but is for the rest of the passengers who do not get free seat allocation until check-in opens.

Unfortunately, if you want full control over where you sit, this new scheme will make it harder for you.  Because, if you don’t opt-in to automatic check-in, many others passengers will and that will reduce the seating options for you to choose from when check-in opens.

I would have slightly more faith in this if it wasn’t for the fact that BA’s seat selection software works in hugely mysterious ways.  If you have status, BA gives you a seat when you book and then gives you the option to change it.  The software is perfectly happy to split up family groups or – if you both have ‘aisle’ as a preference in your profile – sit a couple directly behind each other in two aisle seats.

If you don’t like the seats you are given, I am told:

Should customers wish to change their seat allocation following ACI they must call their local Contact Centre for assistance as this cannot be actioned online.

…. which may lead to a lot of telephone calls heading BA’s way.

At present, people already receive an email asking them to use the online check-in service.  BA clearly thinks that not enough people are using it, so wants to roll this out.  Let’s see how it goes.

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  1. As long as all PAX are allocated seats at the rear of the plane when opting in it shouldn’t be a problem. But that might not happen as pax have to be spread over the entire aircraft for weight spread. Auto seat allocation won’t use up exit seats so it won’t bother me.

  2. Larryflyer says:

    As a SCH, I tend to choose my preferred seat at booking, then check again at T-72 in case anything significant has changed (e.g. position of curtain on shorthaul flight). I usually do OLCI, but ALWAYS delay printing my boarding pass as late as possible ( i.e at the airport) to preserve the option of changing my seat until after most other passengers have been allocated seats. This way, I can move to a seat that has a higher chance of being next to an empty seat. The proposed automatic checkin (for others, not me!) sounds like it will give me a more complete view early on of the final seat allocations.

  3. Colin A-B says:

    This reminds me that automatic bag-drop is being trialled at LGW when I went through the week before last.
    The concept was simple enough but it was remarkably slow.

  4. LHR Tim says:

    Air France do this and it is dreadful. You get allocated a seat but you can change it. However if you arez on a cheap fare, it gives you the option of re-picking your seat — somewhere in the back of the bus.

    BA could always use the SAS algorithm – Allocate seating based on status, so Star Alliance Golds first before Silver. Then start allocating seats – from the *rear* of the aircraft.

    Suppose after many folks catch on that this is bad, they’ll opt to buy seats together when they first make the booking. So maybe it is very clever after all — from a revenue generating perspective

  5. GUWonder says:

    Sounds like eventually this may end up married with selling more people on paying to pick seats.

    Airlines tend to be motivated more by money than by concerns for passenger convenience.

  6. I’ve never really understood the concept of needing to check in. I mean you can check-in and then still not show, so why the need to have an extra step? For non-flexible tickets, the only options are to take the flight or not take it, so why not just automatically check in once booked? If they want to call it auto-seat selection, then they should just call it that, but I guess this is not surprising from BA…

    I remember when I was a small child that my parents had to call up 2 days before a flight to confirm that we were going to take it… and then still need to check in at -3 hours.

    • I remember, in Bangkok I think, being kicked off a flight because I had not reconfirmed it. This would have been 1990-ish. I had actually given my ticket to the hotel concierge to do it for me, and the tickets were returned to me the same day with a big tick on them, implying all was done.

      I can’t remember how it worked out. I think I got bumped onto a flight the following day and I made the hotel give me another nights accommodation on the house.

  7. Speedbird_abz says:

    I have no status on Alitalia and got allocated 14B and my partner 36B the other day at check-in despite being numbers 119 and 120 to check-in online about 23 hours prior to the flight. I then had to pay 20 euros each to sit together at an emergency exit – there were no other seats together. The BA ‘trial’ will lead to more people paying for allocated seating and unhappy customers being seated behind each other etc, as has been stated above. Luckily I can choose my BA seats in advance, but if not I think I would not take the chance and pay up – especially on a long-haul.

  8. Lady London says:

    I seem to remember airlines like Swiss have been doing this and self-bag-drop for many years. It doesn’t add anything positive to the experience of the unstatused passenger and may well mean the passenger now has to take extra action to undo whatever has been done automatically when they might have had a better chance without the automatic system, of getting a particular location of seat if this was something that mattered to them.

    As other posters have said, this looks like a fiendish way for BA to reduce the ability of passengers to secure seats they would prefer without paying extra and spending time to take action to avoid the now higher chance of getting stuck with rotten seats. It has nothing to do with passenger convenience quite the opposite and no doubt to remove passenger choice forcing payment by the passenger to get what they had a reasonable possibility of achieving without extra payment before.

  9. I noticed earlier in the year that on full flights to and from Dubai, BA seemed to have allocated seating to everyone prior to online check-in opening. It just wasn’t possible to see what we’d been allocated.

    In particular on the flight back I was aware for some days prior that there were a couple of seats available on the UD. At some point prior to online check-in opening these were showing as taken on expertflyer, but on going into online check-in they’d been assigned as our default allocation.

    We checked in the moment it opened, and that there was only one other free seat in the whole of club to choose from (not likely one of us was going to move downstairs…).

    That may have been unusual due to the flight being full, or maybe the cabin was full of people with status or who’d paid to reserve. In any case, auto check-in on those flights would have made very little difference.