Does your favourite airline charge a sky-high seating fee?
Airline seating is a particularly prickly consumer issue, and any frequent flyer knows that getting the seat you want on a plane can be a frustrating and expensive nightmare. We expect airlines to charge a premium for extra legroom, but many of them now charge extra for standard seating too. The worst offender seems to be Thomson, which charges passengers £25 each for the privilege of sitting next to their family and friends.
Avid Bitterwallet reader Cheryl alerted us to this charge after refusing to pay it when she and her boyfriend returned from a recent holiday in Tenerife with Thomson. Instead, she turned up at the airport early, and was one of the first passengers to check in for her flight. Thomson’s website FAQ clearly states: "You’ll be assigned a seat at check-in on a first come first served basis." Surprisingly, though, she was handed boarding passes showing that she would not to be sitting next to her boyfriend, and was told that the seats had been pre-allocated in the UK.
Not a great flyer, she was a little upset about this. And she wasn’t alone. Onboard, she found that many passengers had been separated from their families and friends in what seemed to be a completely random manner. So a whole load of Thomson customers ended their holidays on a long and lonely 4 ½ hour flight to Newcastle sitting next to complete strangers.
Cheryl complained to Thomson, who offered this response: "Unfortunately due to operational reasons we’re unable to guarantee seats together. We do offer a service where we can guarantee you to sit together for a small supplement. This is to allow people who really need the service to be able to guarantee it."
People who really need the service? That’ll be families with kids. We’ve previously referred to this type of seating charge as a "family tax", with a family of four flying with Thomson facing the prospect of having an extra £200 tacked onto the price of their holiday for the extravagance of sitting next to each other on return flights.
Cheryl confirmed that some kids on her flight were sat at opposite ends of the plane to their parents or guardians, which seems incredibly unreasonable on Thomson’s behalf, and also raises some worrying safety issues. We contacted Thomson’s press office several days ago asking for a response, but we’re still waiting.
So how do other airlines compare? EasyJet and Ryanair don’t provide the option to select seats, leading to a free-for-all boarding bunfight that pretty much works, with everyone getting a seat, and most passengers getting to sit next to the people they’re travelling with. BA and Virgin provide standard seat selection free of charge on the tried and tested first come, first served basis.
Of the other major British airlines, all charge a fee, some of which vary according to factors such as the length of the route. Typically, these fees aren’t very transparent, and most aren’t made clear until passengers enter the booking process. Of the airlines we checked, only Monarch and Thomas Cook provided easily accessible seat selection fee information.
Perhaps the most outrageous behaviour of all is courtesy of Jet2:
"If your flight is cancelled e.g. due to adverse weather conditions or a change of aircraft, this [seating] charge is refundable upon application in writing and payment of a £5 administration fee."
So Jet2 will charge you £5 to claim a refund of £3.99 for a service that they’ve failed to deliver.
Remember, these fees are for selecting standard seats, per person, per flight. If you want extra legroom, you can expect to pay a whole lot more.