Does your favourite airline charge a sky-high seating fee?

Bitterwallet - Thomson seat feesAirline 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.

Bitterwallet - airline seat fees


  • -]
    It's a very scummy business practice - the people on the plane who were unhappy at seating arrangements should have just started swapping seats. If there were that many who had been separated then there is little the cabin crew could do. Companies treating you like shit? Don't be passive and sit there taking it, ACT!
  • Nobby
    I agree. Just start sorting it out between yourselves on the plane. We got separated from our kids (age 3 and 5) on one flight. I thought we were being treated like royalty, not having to sit with them. But some "kind" lady passenger and her husband suggested that we have their seats and they have ours, so we were next to the kids. We didn't inform the lottery ticket sellers on the plane, we just switched.
  • Bill B.
    You sure BA don't charge? If I log into my booking I'm presented with "WHY NOT SELECT YOUR SEATS TODAY FOR £20 PER PERSON PER FLIGHT".
  • Sky O.
    Its only £50 to sit next to the Pilot when you fly with us.
  • Orville w.
    Thieving bastards - they also charged me Tickets on Departure for me and my family @ £15 per person when they could have sent them next day delivery in 1 envelope for less than £4, don't get me started on the poxy fuel surcharge which they also screwed me over @ £40 per person.
  • Shaune
    TBH I never pay extra for being seated together with my family and theirs 6 of us, Been abroad with Thomson 5 times and always been allocated seats together at the airport. It is a rip off, may be £5 per head, However £25 per head they are taking the piss.
  • SimbaK2K
    @Bill - BA allow you to pick your seats free of charge so many days before your flight. If you want the top pick of the seats you can pay more to reserve your seat early, so its entirely optionally and you can still reserve seats without paying, you just need to wait closer to your departure date.
  • The B.
    I had this with Cathay when I went on honeymoon to NZ, the second part of the flight home (Hong Kong - London) was full of "pre-booked" seats, we turned up early and got decent seats for NZ-HK but they said that all seats were pre-allocated for a flight that left in 14 hours time from HK and that the only way for us to do it was haggle when we got to HK, this despite me trying to "pre-book" before leaving the UK (I'm happy enough to pay extra if I get to choose my seat). I (being male) went ballistic, which got me nowhere, then the wife turned on the waterworks and started at them about ruining her honeymoon and how could they be so callous and cold hearted, which did wonders, amazingly they got all embarrassed and somehow magicked a pair of seats next to each other even though all the seats were "pre-booked". Never flown with them since, wouldn't recommend them to anyone.
  • Gunn
    It's clearly a money maker and I hate the way its going, I wish it was just pick you seats when you check in online, no charge. And if not all prebooked then its a free for all, what is wrong with that?
  • Paul
    Is the £25 charge made when you book flights only with Thomson? I had a package holiday with Thomson in September and for 2 adults and 1 child the cost to sit together was £37 in total there and back. In fact booking a package deal today the charge for the 3 of us to sit together is still only £37. Indeed the FAQ states about being assigned a seat when you check in, but I assume that is being assigned a seat which has not been booked in advance, if people are paying to sit together then those who do not risk being separated.
  • nerd.
    To be fair, FlyBE's is just as optional as BA's. You can select your seat (out of what's left) at check in time.
  • Darren
    This happened to us 3 years ago with Thompson, they put all 3 of us on end row seats going down the plane, our main concern was the 3rd seat for our son... who was 18 months old at the time... However most passengers helped us re allocate by swapping seats and 3 others complained to the air stewardess about the allocation for our family.... it was disgusting.
  • Paul
    Isn't this a safety issue? If kids are separated from parents and there's an emergency in flight, you're going to have people out of their seats trying to get to each other at the worst possible time. Worse still, kids might be stuck *in* seats unable to get at oxygen masks or seat belt catches. I wonder what the CAA thinks about this? Presumably nothing until someone gets hurt ...
  • Paul
    Just found this on the CAA website Children, accompanied by adults, should ideally be seated in the same seat row as the adult. In wide-bodied aircraft, children and accompanying adults should not be separated by more than one aisle. Where this is not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults.
  • James
    Yup we just flew with Thomson as a family of four. I liked the fact that you could go online and look at the selection you were currently given (shite) and then pay through the nose to change it. There were several rows of four still empty but we had been allocated three different rows to sit. This seems to prove that if you don't pay, Thomson will deliberately separate you. On the way back from Taba the local staff simply walked to all the families, took their details and ensured that they all sat together, so up yours Thomson.
  • Mike L.
    Aer Lingus is free when you check-in online (less than 30 hours before departure).
  • Nobby
    It would be good if booking a flight was like booking a train. On a train, you can book your seat when you book your journey. If they don't have the seats you want (forward facing, aisle, table), you can book a train at another time to make sure you get what you want.
  • Bob
    What "operational reasons" are Thomson talking about? When you buy your ticket you are reserving a "seat", so you have the right there and then to choose from the remaining seats available. Go Bitterwallet, time to force another change in the cut-throat scamming of the public. We will not stand for this abuse, we're paying hundreds or thousands of pounds for a service, only to be separated from our families! It's an outrage.
  • George
    When you pay for your flight you are already reserving your seat, so you have the right to choose there and then from any available seat in that class. You haven't paid hundreds or thousands of pounds for your holiday, only to be separated from your family! It's criminal. Go Bitterwallet, force another change in the ruthless scamming of the public by corporations.
  • Dez
    Yes with BA you can select your seats for free 24 hours in advance, which was fine. But now that you can pay before that date for any seat - not just premium (£20 or £10 each way - i think long haul vs short haul) it could be that checking in 24 hours before you find there are no seats together anymore... a definite change for the worse!!
  • Dez_R
    In the article, Thomsons are quoted: + Unfortunately due to operational reasons we’re unable to guarantee seats together + We offer a service where we can guarantee you to sit together for a small supplement So.. if every passenger paid a small supplement, then it _is_ guaranteed that they could sit together. Seems quite clear that there are NO operational reasons. Thompsons are lying, plain and simple. I suspect that check-in staff are instructed to split groups up so that people know they're apart unless they do pay. That's awful - but seems typical of the industry's practices to pi;le on more extra charges at every opportunity. If CAA regulations instruct that children sit with parents/carers (good work Paul, 15/[email protected]:46), and there are no end of common sense reasons that they should. Action should be taken about this.
  • blobby
    imho, it appears you get what you pay for. I've just returned from down under via Singapore Airways who despite bumping me off a flight, have always seemed to have the passengers best interests in mind. Y'pay for shit, y' get shit. (and i'll add that that Singapore/MIA staff are twice as fit as the groaners I saw today off the ironically named virgin flights)
  • Ten B.
    [...] your favourite airline charge a sky-high seating fee? (and the corporate bullshit [...]
  • Janey
    Just found this article. What a load of rubbish. Thomson don't, and never have, charged £25 for sitting together. A short haul flight it is £15 per adult and £7 per child. Long haul £25 and £10 return costs, not each way! The author of this 'article' also forgot to mention, that included in that price, is the option to pick your own seat numbers as well. How I wish people would put their brains into gear, before writing a load of garbage!
  • Hugo
    Actually they do charge as I have just been phoned myself by Thomson. They wanted £50 from me and my partner to guarantee seats together for our outward journey and return. I told the guy to go take a hike, and that I disagree with what they're doing. He wanted £12.50 per person per journey. Just another way to make a quick buck!
  • nicola
    We are a family of 4 travelling in Aug and I have just been phoned by Thomson. Due to our early morning return flight we were offered late check out at an additional cost. Fair enough I thought the 50 odd pounds was worth it. I was then offered to choose our seat numbers for FREE ,oooh like I care what seat number we sit in. Oh but if you want to sit together the charge for that would be £44. Would it still be free if I chose 4 seats numbers not together? This nice lady explained that 80% of seats are put up for pre-booking and the remainder are pre allocated by Thomson. Don't worry about checking in extra early she said, as they will already have been allocated to you?! ' Surely you wouldn't sit children away from their parent's as it's a safety issue' I pressed. ' Well you will probably be seated two and two, don't feel pressurised into taking this option' she replied, hmmm don't worry I wont! This call didn't come from my local travel agent whom I'd booked through, but some central number. Today I called my local Thomson agent and asked how the airline seating was allocated. 'Well you can prebook or it will be allocated on a first come first served basis at check in'. So which one of them is telling the truth? and I wonder if I will be able to see their little screen at check in to see which seats are available, I doubt it. After paying £50 extra for the room our budget won't stretch another £44, and I feel it is a total rip off, but I do feel guilty that my children may have to sit on their own.
  • Stuff f.
    [...] Read the full post at Bitterwallet. [...]
  • emma
    i would love to say this is not the case but it is true. I am cabin crew for the sed airline and have taken alot of flack off u our customer about the issue of seating and costs. What i will say is this, we are a charter airline not scheduled like BA AND VIRGIN. The whole opertaion is therefore very different. It is not ur cabin crews fault so please dont ever think we dont care when we cant help u move. people do pay for assigned seats so it hard to start moving everybody around every flight, everyday!! I always try and help out people with small children n i will always try n get people an extra seat if they have an infant on their lap. But this is only if i have that seat to play with? Can u imagine all the hundreds of flights we do, and more often than not we are getting yelled at for seating issues!! We do have the chance to voice our oppinions every yr at meetings we all attend and along with many others this is an issue regularly brought up but that is as far as we crew can go. obviously i have to holiday with my company n i never have nor will i ever pay for the option to sit next to my partner. We dont get special treatment n moved to sit next to each other we just get on with it! You either sleep read or watch tv. The main point i would like to make is that yes the charter airlines are and will quite happily charge for most things if they can, its unfair i agree but in the long run it will save the airlines from collapse after the money we lost in the ash cloud and every day is a strugle. Im just glad to get somewhere safely in the knowledge that my airline has the money to train the crew and pilots!!!
  • Tracey B.
    Travelling as a party of 3 one of us an eight year old Type 1 diabetic with Thomsons to Girona in August. I was told by Thomson's call centre that a child would sit with at least one of the adults travelling, if not both. Flight out no problem, all sat together, due to delays in our checkin queue on the way back we were all separated, my daughter made to sit two rows away from us. Not good for a child who is unable to control her own medication, when we complained it appeared that Girona check in had given out seats allocated by Thomsons operations team to somebodyelse, currently an internal investigation going on. Don't believe a word they say, not likely to travel with Thomson's again, too stressful!!
  • Steve
    we booked our holiday to turkey in a few weeks and Thomson does charge 25quid a head to pre book your seats. We are travelling with our 2 daughters 5 and 13. I believe the airline has a duty of care to its customers which includes there safety. So i will be calling them today to say i am not paying this family tax. If they so wish to sit my kids with total strangers can they provide crb checks for the stranger. Thank you for the post about the caa rules very helpful
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