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Want to keep your middle seat free? British Airways increases the cost

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British Airways sent out an announcement recently regarding the pricing of ‘extra seats’, often known as ‘comfort seats’.

The archetypal user of an ‘extra seat’ is a musician with a priceless cello or violin, a bride-to-be with her wedding dress (see photo below!), an ex-skier with a foot in plaster or a critically obese individual.

Wedding dress

In reality, they are also often used by people who want to work on confidential documents (according to BA, although I’m not sure why such a person would not book into Club Europe) and – for the enlightened – people who want to create a Club Europe-type experience at a discount price!

The old pricing for comfort seats

Until last month, you could book an ‘extra seat’ for the ex-tax price of a standard cash seat.

Because of BA’s crazy ‘taxes and charges’ this would often be as little as £5 on a short-haul flight.

You may be wondering why, if you could pay so little to book an empty seat next to you, more people did not do so.  Apart from the fact that British Airways keeps them low key, the airline is woefully poor at administering them.

You can only book an ‘extra seat’ by telephone.  Once done – and you need to find an agent who can do it, which is not always easy – you cannot relax.  Because of the way they are treated in the system, you remain reliant on the ground staff at the airport to block out your additional seat properly and to not move a passenger into it.

I also know people who have turned up at the gate to find that their extra seat is now five rows back from where they are seated themselves.  Just about acceptable if it is for your wedding dress, less acceptable if it is for your own personal comfort or privacy.

The new pricing for comfort seats

The days of the £5 ‘extra seat’ are gone.

As of a couple of weeks ago, the minimum price is now £40 return for short-haul flights and £300 return for long-haul flights.   The price will be higher if the ex-taxes and surcharges price of the 2nd seat is greater than £40 / £300.

There is one upside to the new pricing.  The ‘extra seat’ is now based on the price you paid for your own seat.  Under the old system, the price you paid was based on the price at the time the extra seat was requested.

This makes a big difference to, say, accident prone skiers or brides who only decide at the last minute to take their dress onboard.  Booking an ‘extra seat’ at the last minute was always very expensive as it was based on the last minute ticket cost.  It is now based on what you originally paid for your seat many months ago.

There is one more downside.  In long-haul economy BA can no longer guarantee that your seat will have armrests which fully lift (it is not clear which aircraft this refers to) which means that ‘people of size’ are wasting their money buying an additional middle seat.  British Airways put out a specific release last week addressing this as it is clearly causing some embarrassment at airports.

You can also no longer buy a spare seat for a double bass if travelling on a short-haul flight, as they will no longer fit due to the ‘enhanced’ legroom in the refurbished planes!


British Airways BA Amex American Express

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Comments (23)

  • Max says:

    I was unaware they ever did this (like many I expect) but it makes obvious business sense that they charge full whack for the seat rather than a fiver!

    Do you get two meals and double the luggage allowance if you book one though?

    • Roger says:

      No and no, according to a post at FlyerTalk.

      I too was unaware that BA did this, though I took advantage of Ryanair’s similar scheme when they were offering 1p all-in fares – 2p for (almost) a Club-style experience was an enhancement not to be missed. 😀

  • Mark says:

    So the population is getting fatter and BA have in their infinite wisdom decided to have fixed armrests on ALL seats.

    The future is define tell not bright for BA

    • callum says:

      While I can definitely see your point, I’d argue from a public health perspective it’s much better if companies don’t work to make the life of obese people easier (apologies to those with genuine medical reasons!).

      If they find it too uncomfortable to sit in a seat suitable for a healthy person, they should either lose some weight (again, excluding those with medical issues) or pay for a bigger seat in business (or WTP assuming this doesn’t apply there?).

  • Erico1875 says:

    So, for £20 EW pp, a couple could have a row to themselves.

  • riku2 says:

    I was on one of the new short haul planes last week and the armrest certainly lifted up (my seat was 2F). And this was not one of the ex-bmi planes but an A320 with the new slim seats with much reduced pitch in business class.

    • Raffles says:

      Odd. British Airways sent travel agents an email last week specifically warning them about this problem.

      • rob al says:

        i’ve often found that arm rests which are locked in place can be raised by finding a hidden catch underneath or in the pivot of the hinge.

  • Czechoslovakia says:

    Last BA flight we took, we had the last 7 rows completely to ourselves 🙂

  • Tom Otley says:

    They do go up. I’m in 16F at the moment.

    • Paul says:

      Armrest that don’t go up must surely be a safety concern when 3 people are wedged in. Will it take an accident to get this changed?

    • Rob says:

      Morning Tom! OK, I have got to the bottom of this one and have amended the article accordingly. It is WT where the armrests are being changed to not lift. However, the email then talks about certain musical instruments no longer being allowed in ET due to the tighter seat pitch. I misread it and thought the arm rest comment applied to ET.

      • FIRSTclstraveller says:

        So this means those WT passengers who are fortunate to find a row of seats empty can no longer stretch out and use them as a ‘bed’ I’m guessing?

      • RIccati says:

        Immovable armrests are very inconvenient, cause of soft damage to body tissues and delays during boarding and disembarkation.

  • Buying the Middle Seat Next to You for More Space: British Airways Raises Price But It's Still Cheap - View from the Wing - View from the Wing says:

    […] for Points writes about the increase in price that British Airways is pushing through for buying the middle seat next to […]

  • Lady London says:

    Erm….. so BA’s taxes were not really taxes at all, then, they are just money BA wanted to receive as the true price of a seat. I am shocked.

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