Should passengers be willing to pay extra to reserve seats on flights?

As Ryanair comes under fire for an alleged change in seating allocation policy, The Independent travel team share their own thoughts on paying extra to reserve a spot on a flight. 

Simon Calder, travel correspondent

Until mid-May, my experience had been that Ryanair, British Airways and easyJet follow a very similar policy for passengers who choose not to pay for specific seats. Approximately: “We’re not making promises, but we’ll do our best to sit you with other members of your party.”

All the evidence I have seen, reinforced by Oxford University statistics boffins, suggests that Ryanair’s seating policy has changed radically, and now aims to separate everyone who hasn’t paid. That is simply not true, says the airline. But entirely hypothetically, let’s just imagine that an airline had changed its seating policy.

No problem. Cheapskates like me would rather perch on the wing than pay a penny in “ancillaries” — the extras that account for so much of a budget airline’s profits. If other passengers are prepared to pay, then it seems commercially rational and morally fair for us to be consigned to middle seats, with our pals and partners scattered the length of the cabin.

But surely if an airline were to do this, all it would need to do is openly and transparently explain its new policy and travellers could make up their own minds?

Let’s see if any airline dreams up such a plan…

Dave MacLean, lifestyle editor

I’d definitely pay to avoid a middle seat, but as a regular solo traveller I don’t have to as so many couples travel together it’s really unlikely that you’ll end up getting the worst of the three seats.

On long-haul flights on BA’s Airbus A380 I’ll pay to secure seat 25D in economy. There’s no chair in front so you get business class levels of legroom for less than £100.

Ravneet Ahluwalia, travel reporter

For me, the whole point of travelling on a budget airline is to keep costs down. Squeezing an extra £10 out of each passenger can quickly add up if you are flying with a group of people. As I have rarely enjoyed flying on a no-frills carrier, I refuse to pay extra for something that will not make the experience any more comfortable.

Helen Coffey, deputy head of travel

I have never paid for seat allocation on an aeroplane, nor am I likely to. It’s the principle of the thing, you see. I’m aware of my own hypocrisy – as a north Londoner I’ll happily shell out £12 for a cocktail or uncomplainingly spend £30 at some kind of ridiculous bottomless brunch, while baulking at the idea of handing over £6 to reserve a particular seat on a Ryanair flight next to my travel companion. 

But to me, there’s a big difference. For one, I can’t stand feeling short-changed; I can’t bear to cough up for things that I feel should be free. Just as paying for water in a restaurant would get my back up, so too does the idea that getting to sit next to – or even nearby – the person I checked in with comes at a price. I understand that some people want to pay a bit more to get extra leg room, or be next to the window, but why that should then force the rest of the passengers to suffer doesn’t compute. If you can sit people travelling together in the same general vicinity, why wouldn’t you? Being a budget airline has nothing to do with it: easyJet, Jet2 and Monarch, among others, all seat you with your party as much as possible, without whacking on an extra charge. 

Perhaps it’s making a mountain out of a molehill, but this “new” policy (which Ryanair claims is not new) would make me consider flying with its competitors every time.

Julia Buckley, acting head of travel

I always pay for an assigned seat on Ryanair – in fact, that’s what I think is great about budget airlines. I’m really tall, claustrophobic and terrified of flying (a great combination in my profession), so for me, being able to prebook my perfect seat (seat F in the emergency exit or bulkhead row) removes much of my fear, and having the chance to buy extra stuff like priority boarding means that I can avoid a lot of airport stress and anxiety. Every time I fly, I have a mini panic attack en route to the gate, so knowing I’m at least avoiding the scrum and will definitely have somewhere to stash my cabin baggage means I don’t have anything else to worry about.

But why should anyone else have the cost of my travel neuroses built into their tickets? For a recent Ryanair flight, I paid €5.99 for my ticket, €20 for an exit row seat and about €30 for a checked bag. That made the flight 10 times as much as it could have been, but I didn’t begrudge it. I paid to have the extras, and to sit with my travelling companion. If I’d just paid €5.99, I’d be grateful for any seat. 

If Ryanair are doing this, I think it’s a logical step for them – I’d just like them to be honest about it.

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