British Airways to start charging for all advance seat assignments

by Janice Hough on September 25, 2009

BAseat
Most major airlines have figured out the cash cow of selling some of their better seat assignments. Now British Airways is going them one better, by in most cases, charging for ALL pre-assigned seating.

As usual, this change is being announced as “giving you more control.” For the general public, British Airways offers pre-assigned seats only for full fare tickets. All passengers traveling on discounted tickets, even discounted business-class tickets, must wait until 24 hours in advance. And that assigned-seat option is only available to passengers who check in online.

Starting Oct. 7, any passenger can get a pre-assigned seat at any time, up until the online check-on opens — If they pay for it.

The cost for a seat assignment on a transatlantic flight in economy or premium economy will be $30 each way. Even more surprising, passengers on discounted business-class tickets will pay $90. Worse, the charges are per segment that will make a round-trip connecting flight end up costing $360 more for assigned seats in business class.

For flights within Europe the seat-assignment cost will be $30 business, and $15 economy. Passengers on full-fare tickets will still be exempt, as will Premier, Gold and Silver level Executive Club members.

For exit-row seats, the costs are even higher — $75 each way, and they are available only ten to four days prior to departure. Only top-level frequent fliers will be exempt from that fee, along with clients of top British Airways corporate accounts and a very small number of travel agents.

Curiously enough for an airline that has so strongly encouraged all its passengers to check in online, the new paid seat assignments will, at least at the beginning, be only available by phone.

While the British Airways site does not mention this (no doubt as other airlines don’t), the seat assignment fee will be nonrefundable. No word yet of the seat-assignment charge refundability rules for a passenger who simply makes a date change on a ticket and pays a penalty. (My expectation would be yes.)

No U.S. carrier has started charging for every seat assignment, yet. But no doubt they will be watching the British Airways experiment with interest. If it works, and the reaction is mostly positive, or at least doesn’t result in a drop in bookings, look for the same policy here.

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  • http://www.bonjourparis.com Karen Fawcett

    I so hope passengers will boycott BA. This is gouging to the extreme plus a total lack of respect for people who generate revenue for the airline. BA does not have a monopoly on flights to the UK. It’s a competitive route. I hope other airlines won’t follow BA’s lead.

    When is enough enough? Sign me disgusted.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/leocha Charlie Leocha

    Somehow, Southwest’s no assigned seats policy begins to look like a good norm.

  • John

    The way I read this is that BA is expanding service and charging for it. Right now you can’t get a seat assignment until you check in 24 hrs in advance. On Oct 7th, you can get a seat assignment at any point if you are willing to pay. If not, you are only marginally worse off than now (some people will pay for advance seat assignments so the one seat you want might not be available when you check in 24 hours in advance).

    I don’t see any reason to boycott. This isn’t like Delta deciding to charge a bag fee on tickets they already sold (ie a fee for something that used to be included). Its a fee for a new service.

  • http://www.bonjourparis.com Karen Fawcett

    John – Perhaps I am not appreciate the subtle nature of BA’s marketing campaign. I book flights in advance to (hopefully) get the best price and to have a greater choice in seat selection. I don’t see why I should have to wait until the last moment.

    And If I am not booking the cheapest deep discounted fare and spring for an (even reduced) business class fare, I don’t want to find myself sitting next to the WCs or the galley. Am I being too demanding? Sign me baffled. Karen

  • John

    Karen – The point is that you don’t get a seat assignment now much like you don’t get a gourmet meal in the back. The airline has decided to start selling you an added option (the seat assignment when you want it not 24 hrs prior). They aren’t taking anything away and making you pay. You don’t have a seat assignment if you fly with them today until you check in. In a week in a half, if it matters that much to you, you can pay for an early seat assignment. Otherwise, just wait til check in.

    This is like Southwest suddenly starting to offer assigned seating if you pay a fee.

    Would you boycott that?

  • Steve

    Charging for selecting *business class* seats (even discounted) is a crime. You’re already paying thousands of dollars; so you should fork over more for the privilege? This is one that I don’t even see the cash-hungry competitors doing.

  • Imprecator

    Totally lost common sense. Can one imagine a restaurant or movie theater charging extra-fees to be seated near your friends/family members ? Being seated together is part of the *core* product of an airline. BA is committing hara-kiri on itself.

  • gillian

    I understand paying for premium seats or exit row, but good grief, you pay enough for the fare, it should be first come first served on the seat assignments. If someone buys a ticket way in advance they should get a seat of their choice. Here is a ticket I sold recently, the fare was usd318 the tax is usd 386. There is enough tax in there to pay for the seat assignment. It stinks.

  • Jennifer (the other one)

    Usually these sorts of extras are provided free as a courtesy to business and first class, while the peons in economy are charged for them. I can’t figure out the logic of charging more for seat assignments in business class than economy.

    Does this mean that if you pay for an assigned seat, the airline can’t force you to move?

  • DaveS

    If I go to a sports event, a concert, a stage production, I expect to pay more if I get better seats. I don’t get the fireworks over airlines doing the same thing. The point is that if you want better seats you CAN get them, without having to wait, but you’ll pay extra for those seats. Seems perfectly logical and reasonable to me. Most flights I won’t bother to pay extra, but it’s good to know I can get the seat I want if I choose to.

  • Brian

    Now does anyone wonder why we “hate” airlines. They are always finding ways to “screw” you out of more money. Guess I won’t be taking British Airways for my trip to Russia this year. Wonder if Delta will do the same on charging for my seat selection? Maybe I should take a boat… oh, Ocean liners are doing the same thing.

  • chris

    I think John has a point…given the fact that you already have to wait until 24 hours prior to get your BA seat assignment unless you are paying full fare (and who does that any more?), this is only a marginal difference for coach passengers. I do agree that its misguided to apply this to biz and first class fares. I sorta see this like giving a tip to a maitre d at a restaurant to be sure you get a good table. If you want to ensure you get a good one, you pay up. If you dont care, you dont. You might end up with a good one anyway…

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  • CVR

    BA do not currently offer seat selection earlier than 24 hours in advance for the general public. At the 24 hour before departure mark, it’s free to select your seats, but on a first come – first serve basis as part of the check in process. Now they plan to offer a premium add-on service to enable customers to pay for the right to select their seats in advance. It’s not like they’re revoking the 24 hours in advance free option. And one can only assume that passengers have asked for the ability to pay to select earlier in the past, or else they wouldn’t have launched the service. It’s not mandatory that you use it, and it’s not revoking any right that passengers have had in the past. It would be different if they didn’t plan to keep the current free check-in option available as well, but they do. I personally don’t see the problem?

  • Carrie Charney

    I hope they have the good sense to keep people who have booked together in adjacent seats. I can see a harried mother luxuriating in peace and quiet while a couple of strangers are seated on either side of her three-year old, several rows away. ;-)

  • Scott

    @ GIllian:

    Taxes are just that, taxes. They do not go to the airline. They get passed on to governments and agencies. So that is completely oblivious to this discussion.
    —————————————————————————————–
    BA is going to offer you the opportunity to purchase something you cannot get now. There is no big deal. Buy it or not.

    BUT, it is practically certain that U.S. airlines will eventually follow this model, and then you will have to pay for something that you get for free now. Save your uproar until then.

  • Ed F London

    I have never been a BA fan even tho I’m London based. While their no advance seating assignments for us cheapo ticket buyers is not uncommon on European carriers, I absolutely refuse to fly them long-haul not knowing if I’ll spend 4-8 hours in a middle seat and, in some cases, not having convenient internet access at a location from which my return flight originates. (Plus, I’m remembering I couldn’t even select within the 24-hours advance period when I returned from Gran Canaria because, a few years ago, BA didn’t provide that service from there.)

    I fly to Nairobi once every 4-6 weeks. The first trip I took, I chinned up and flew BA. Absolutely dirtiest, most dilapidated airplane I’ve ever been on. (On the subsequent trip, Virgin was significantly cheaper so I opted for them. What a difference: beautiful aircraft, superior service, and the ability to choose and change seat assignments online from the moment after I purchased my ticket.)

    Granted, I’m spoiled. I’m a Premier Exec on UA. I’ve been a Premier Exec or 100K for each of the last 15 years, and, yes, sometimes I pay more to stick with UA transatlantic, but I get the benefits. For BA to charge me for nothing and provide no sustainable quality is just not on.

    I’m with Karen on this one. Avoid/boycott BA. Tho I doubt they’ll ever understand why. They undefine 2 of the 3 words in British Flag Carrier.

  • http://www.travel-rants.com Darren Cronian

    I don’t know why people are so heated about this. Airlines have been adding on extra charges for anything they want for the last 5 years. Once one airline adds on a new extra charge, the others follow, so expect most airlines to charge soon.

    Our “low cost” airlines in Europe have been charging this extra for a while now, and what annoys me is that if you do not book your seat, they put you in a difficult position.

    On a flight to Venice they stuck me in between a husband and wife. Common sense prevailed when I asked if they would like me to swap seats, and I think they were quite relieved.

  • Joe

    UK based airlines have the distinction of charging the highest tax and fuel surcharges in the world, and now BA inflicts the ultimate insult on passengers; charging for pre assisnged seating via telephone no less. One might understand the fee if it were for the complete journey, but to charge the fee for “each segment” of the journey is nothing short of greed and stupidity. Charging Business Class passengers such exorbitant fees per segment is a fast way to lose even more premium market share. My recent inflight experiences with BA Club World left a lot to be desired. Would I pay even more for mediocre food, service and a reserved seat? I think not. Fortunately there are other choices like Virgin. Willie Walsh, wake up to reality before BA is totally broke.

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  • Tarun Shah

    The most greedy idea and fraud as they do not mention until you have paid for the ticket. I think this is worst business ethics from a British Company.

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