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How likely is British Airways to seat you apart if you don’t pay for seat selection?

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Paying for seat selection when flying has become the norm over the last decade or so. It isn’t even questioned any longer in Economy, although few airlines have gone as far as British Airways to charge for every seat in Business Class.

Are you wasting your money?

Since British Airways introduced Club Suite, we have argued that you are throwing your money away by paying for seat selection in Business. There are no ‘bad’ seats with Club Suite and the high level of privacy means that you can’t communicate easily with those around you. I’d argue that you have more money than sense if you pay £400 return to reserve two adjacent Club Suite seats.

will British Airways seat you apart

Down the back, of course, it’s a different matter.

There are basically two approaches that an airline can take:

  • do its best to allocate adjacent seats to people on the same ticket, as long as a suitable block is available at check in
  • deliberately split up passengers on the same ticket to teach them a lesson and ensure that they pay next time

Which? magazine has just published the results of a survey of over 8,000 of its subscribers. The results are interesting.

Which? asked a question along the lines of ‘Assuming that you didn’t pay for seat selection, were you allocated seats next to your travel companions at check in?’.

In case you are thinking that family trips may skew the results, remember that parents have no legal right to be seated next to their children. The only requirement is that children are seated no more than one seat row away from their parents.

will British Airways seat you apart

Here are the results:

  • British Airways – 94%
  • easyJet – 93%
  • Jet2 – 90%
  • Ryanair – 66%
  • Wizz Air – 61%

The results are intriguing.

It seems that you are wasting your money, even in Economy, if you pay for seat selection on British Airways. There is a 94% chance that you will be seated with your ticketed companions anyway.

More impressively, the same goes for easyJet and Jet2.

To be honest, even the results for Ryanair and Wizz Air are not bad. Is it worth paying the often-crazy seat selection fees knowing that your chance of being together is still two out of three?

There are other reasons for paying for a seat, of course. On long haul you may have a preference for a window block rather than a centre block (or vice versa for a family of four). You may prefer to be near the front, or away from the loos, or on an emergency exit row with added leg room. Excluding these reasons, you might as well keep your money in your pocket.

You can read the full Which? report here.


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Comments (117)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Vague Badger says:

    It’s not about sitting together for me, it’s about ensuring as much of the aircraft as possible is behind me so I can get to immigration ahead of a few hundred people that haven’t got their passport or other documents ready.

    • Tom says:

      That only matters at small airports. Coming into Heathrow it is all the other flights that are your problem.

    • Stuart says:

      Second this. I marvel at the people on board who appear to have never flown before.

      • Andi F says:

        What worries me more is the people in the fast track security line – sometimes even with gold tags on their bags – who seem shocked that they might have to get their liquids and laptops etc out of their bags until they actually get to putting their stuff in trays…

    • Harry T says:

      On a similar theme, it’s staggering how people struggle to use eGates properly at airports. I suspect these are the same people who find self service checkouts an insurmountable challenge.

      • Andrew. says:

        It would be a lot easier if the reader was a “toblerone” shaped and you placed your passport over it like a semi-opened book at the photo page.

        Thrusting it in doesn’t always work for me.

        • Lady London says:

          Famtastic idea but guessing we may still accept travel documents from some countries that are a flat lamimated card rather than a book?

          • redlilly says:

            The irish passport page is a laminated card. Makes it quite tricky to use in the UK e gates, especially if you keep the free plastic cover on that the Irish issue out with their passports.

  • dbbs says:

    When we flew with BA Economy LHR-DXB return last year, 2 adults, 2 children, I was desperately trying to pay for allocated seating but the system just would not work. Turns out the BA system put us all together anyway so we got what we wanted for free …

  • Bob says:

    Our expert is crap last 4/5 times we’ve been split up to / from Mauritius in business but bought with Avios most time someone has been kind enough to move last time we sat either side of a couple middle seats so no moving there they turned out to be from the next village to ours weird flew out yesterday business to Palma BA put us on row 13 (business finished on 12) so we obviously had to get a little cross said they were overbooked by 8 seats we booked 11& 1/2 months in advance so I think BA are absolutely crap I feel if you book 2 seats at same time they should be together it just plain greedy

    • Lady London says:

      Downgrade compensation on that route would not be huge but still worth claiming. Or if it works out higher money, the difference between the classes

    • Harry T says:

      Did BA also steal your punctuation?

    • Mike says:

      Who’s “our expert”? Seems a weird take for a HfP reader.

      • WaynedP says:

        I assumed typo for “our experience”.

        OP clearly either has generously proportioned fingers or is a typist on a time-limit.

  • Alex G says:

    OH is bronze currently, so we were able to book seats 7 days before our recent flight to JFK. Closest forward we could get was the middle pair in row 16 (Club Suite). At OLCI, we were able to move forward to 15. A couple of hours later we moved to 14, where we stayed.

    So no real advantage on this occasion from chosing seats 7 days before the flight. Maybe would have been if the flight has been full.

    I wouldn’t pay to reserve in Club Suite. All seats are good. Flying to the US, being as far forward as possible definitely matters. We were landside 45 minutes after leaving the plane, but there must have been a couple of hundred people from our flight behind us in the queue for immigration.

    I used to pay to reserve in old Club World to get a window seat that I could reach without having to climb over anyone, but not any longer.

    We have travelled with BA before as Blue, without paying to reserve, and have always been allocated adjacent seats.

    Given the choice, we would now take two window seats in Club Suite if anything was available towards the front. You can’t talk to each other in the middle pair, unless you use sign language.

    • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

      “So no real advantage on this occasion from chosing seats 7 days before the flight. Maybe would have been if the flight has been full.”

      The advantage is you knew you had two middle seats (which you apparently wanted).

      If you had left seat selection until the day of departure you could have ended up further back or split.

      What people should do is check in but like you not generate the BP as that stops you changing seats.

      As to immigration my experience is not getting off the plane early but getting to the hall quickly and that means bobbing and weaving through people who dawdle.

      • jjoohhnn says:

        A few years ago, the checkin machines in LHR used to give you free pick of any seats in the cabin if you had checked in online and not reserved a seat. Not sure if that is still the case.

    • Stuart says:

      Shame last time I was in an immigration hall at JFK they opened a new line right behind us letting everyone else though. We waited an hour and a half

    • Harry T says:

      Y’all need global entry.

      • Gareth J says:

        Yeah, just use the money you’d blow on choosing seats and get Global Entry, it’s a game changed when travelling in the US.

      • redlilly says:

        Turns our global entry is not relevant to a lot of countries. OH is Portuguese, travels a lot to the USA for work… and never gets treated very well by immigration. We looked in to GE for him, and he can’t get it. Same goes for Irish. Who would have thought!

  • Flightsy says:

    Makes absolutely zero difference if my husband and I are seated next to one another on a flight or not. He just puts his airpods in and listens to podcasts or watches programmes he’s downloaded on his iPad. I just fall asleep 😴

    That said, for our upcoming flight to Tokyo in Nov in CW (2-3-2 config), BA trying to charge up to £91 pp per flight takes the absolute piss. Was bumped down to Bronze earlier this year and my work is too stingy these days with travel budgets so probs won’t be Silver status again for a bit 😐

  • Harry T says:

    We wouldn’t really mind sitting a bit further apart in CS. Sometimes we’ve been a couple of rows apart and it’s no great loss – basically impossible to talk to someone in an adjacent suite anyway! I don’t tend to really do tier point runs per se anyway, I just enjoy travelling when I can.

  • Aston100 says:

    Don’t think we’ve ever been seated together on Ryan Air. I think the Which survey may not be fully representative.

    That said, I don’t think we’ve ever been split up on Easyjet.

  • dave says:

    I’m travelling to hong kong with my wife son and 18 month old baby, because my wife and I had separate 241 vouchers we are on separate bookings, she gets to pick a seat with the infant but I cannot pick seats next to her, BA want £540 for me and my son to pick return seats next to her, its obscene and the other passenger put next to my infant will not appreciate it i am sure

    • jjoohhnn says:

      Is the seat next to her also a bassinet?

      • Gordon says:

        If it’s a front row seat they are all classed as bassinet seats!

    • Sam says:

      BA is a budget airline with business and first class cabins, essentially. Not even Virgin, or any other leading airline in the world, would charge a standard seat selection in business class or above.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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