More than ever passengers are concerned with their seat assignment.
In fact one of the most important changes in the Australian travel experience in the past decade has been the evolution of being able to view and choose your seat online.
Passengers are now obsessed with viewing seat maps and trying to work out how to get the 'best seat'.
Is there such a thing as the 'best seat'?
The best seat can mean many things to so many different people that it really is hard to define what it actually means.
Is it the seat that:
- more leg room
- gets served a meal first
- close to the bathroom
- exit row
- back of the plane
- aisle seat
- window seat
- as far forward as possible
- at the back for more overhead bin space
- not over the wing
- in front of the wing
- behind the wing
- not near the galley
- at the front so you can get off first
- at the back so its not so crowded
- any seat as long as I don't have anyone next to me
The list is long and there are many more options as well.
Passengers need to accept the reality of the class of ticket that they have purchased. As a passenger, if you have chosen to book an economy class ticket, the reality is that the seats are small, the seat recline is limited and there will never be enough leg room. And yes, more than likely there will be a passenger sitting next to you. This is the reality of economy class air travel. Airlines will not 'block' out a seat on request so that you do not have to sit next to someone. Every seat on an aircraft is for sale. The airline is trying to make money.
In business and first class, the seats are assigned as per seat map availability. While high tier frequent flyers who often travel in the business or first class cabins have normally nominated a preference of seating on their frequent flyer profile, it does not automatically entitle them to the seat that they want. The seat that they require, such as window or aisle seats, may have already been allocated. The airlines will not involuntarily move passengers in these cabins to different seats due to the demands of other frequent flyer passengers. If the preferred seat number is not available, then the airline will re-look at the seat request on the day at check-in. The airline does not want to upset any passenger over a seat assignment and will try and fulfil any request made.
Passengers in countries such as the USA, who fly on carriers such as American or Delta, know that if they do not have a confirmed seat assignment prior to getting to the airport, they may be bumped off the flight due to an over sale of seats.
In Australia, while the airlines do oversell seats on routes with a known no-show rate (that is passengers who don't turn up for their flight) it is uncommon for passengers not to be able to fly due to not having a seat assignment prior to check-in. There are a number of other ways an airline will determine who does not fly if this situation occurs (over sale) and a seat assignment number is not one of them.
When should I select a seat assignment?
If where you sit on a flight is important to you, then a seat assignment should be part of your ticket purchase process. Don't leave this function until the day before travel as the seat choice available at that time will be very limited.
Many airlines now offer you the opportunity to select seats at the time of ticket purchase. For low cost carriers, seat assignments are offered as part of the ticket purchase process so the airline has a chance to generate additional revenue.
On domestic travel:
- Virgin Australia offers seat assignment 14 days prior to travel
- Qantas and Jetstar at the time of ticket purchase.
The only flights that don't offer this are the smaller regional routes that are operated by smaller aircraft such as a Dash -8 aircraft. These seat assignments will be allocated at check in. If passengers don't pre-allocate a seat number at the time of check-in then they have two options: pre-seat by either calling the airline or online waiting until online check-in opens 24 hrs prior to the flight departure.
Do I have to pay?
- On Qantas Airways domestic flights, seat assignment is free.
- On Virgin Australia domestic flights, seat assignment is free (excluding saver fares)
- On Jetstar and Tiger seat assignments are charged a fee which is normal for low cost carriers.
If passengers choose not to pay, then a seat assignment will be allocated at the time of check in.
What if I can't pre-allocate a seat number? What do I do?
If a seat cannot be pre-allocated on a flight then seats will be allocated at check in on the day of departure.
The online check-in is not working for seat assignments?
If passengers cannot allocate a seat online, then it is always a good idea to look at your airlines website for further instructions prior to calling the airline. Not being able to allocate a seat online or complete online check-in will not stop a passenger from travelling. It is certainly frustrating for passengers when technology fails, but these systems are simply computers - and computers and technology sometimes do not work the way they are supposed to. If an online function is not working, and the airline is having technical problems, these functions will need to be completed at the airport on the day of travel.
Passengers need to check that their computer has been updated to include all the technical functions required to process online check-in such as the pop-ups window function. Airline representatives are not trained IT experts and passengers need to take some responsibility in trying to fix the issues on their computer prior to calling up and accusing the airline that their online system is not working correctly. If after completing this functionality test you still cannot use the online system or if the airline is having technical difficulties, then passengers will need to choose a seat at the airport.
Why do I have to pay for a seat assignment?
Ancillary revenue such as seat assignments now provides the airlines with much needed revenue. By paying a small fee, the passenger is assured of their seat request (subject to terms and conditions) and the airlines can make some extra cash.
I want to sit with my family and friends who are on different booking numbers?
Call the airline to have your bookings 'linked together'. Airlines also call this TCP (total complete party). If this is done prior to check in then one passenger can do online check-in for all passengers by just using one booking reference as they are now all linked in the airline data base. It is not possible for passengers booking to be melded into one booking reference.
What if I can't get seats together?
Now that airlines do provide the option of passengers pre-assigning seats for a fee, passengers who don't pay the fee may not be able to be seated together.
Will families be able to be seated together without paying the fee?
It is recommended that passengers pay the seat fee to take the possibility away of not being seated together.
Are seat numbers guaranteed?
No matter who you are or what class of ticket that you hold, no seat number is ever 100% guaranteed. While the airline will do everything they can to provide you with the seat number that you have chosen, due to operational requirements seat numbers can change.
For example, if the aircraft that was scheduled to operate the flight needed repairs, then the airline may need to substitute that aircraft with another one. This change can happen at any time. If the new aircraft is a different type of aircraft the configuration may be different on-board.
Other reasons for a seat assignment change would be if a medical case or a child travelling alone was on-board. These passengers will take priority and there are strict rules and regulations regarding the seating of these passengers. If the airlines accept a booking for a medical case or a UMNR then seat numbers can change.
I am a high tier frequent flyer member. Will I pay for a seat assignment?
No as per the rules of the frequent flyer membership, you will not pay for a seat assignment.
Whenever I travel I am only allocated seats at the back of the aircraft?
Some airlines will give front seating priority to their high tier members. While it is true that we all would like to think that we are special to the airlines, reality is that the high tier frequent flyers are the travellers that keep airlines profitable. These members deserve more perks for their loyalty and a seat assignment is just one of them.
For further information regarding seat assignments please refer to the following links: