The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has launched a review of airlines’ allocated seating policies after it conducted consumer research that showed passengers are confused by the current approach.

A survey of more than 4,000 people who have flown as part of a group of two or more people found that more than half said they were told by their airline that they would have to pay to ensure they could sit together. Ten per cent said they were informed after booking and a further ten revealed they were never told about their carrier’s seating policy.

Although the majority of passengers understood their booking didn’t guarantee they could sit together, almost half believed their airline would automatically allocate them seats together. While half of respondents managed to sit together, 7 per cent said they had to change their seat allocation at check-in or onboard to avoid sitting apart.

The research found that 18 per cent of respondents hadn’t paid extra to choose their sets and ended up being separated from their group. The worst offender was Ryanair at 35 per cent, followed by Emirates at 22 per cent and Virgin Atlantic at 18 per cent. However, the CAA says some airlines may be more likely than others to automatically seat groups together, but there is uncertainty from consumers on how carriers determine seating.

Six in ten passengers said they paid extra to pick their own seats because of the risk that their airline might split their group. Almost half (46 per cent) felt negatively towards the carrier when they realised they would have to pay more to guarantee seats together.

The CAA says it will request information from airlines about their allocated seating practices “to find out whether consumers are being treated fairly, and whether pricing policies are transparent.” It says the review will also look at airline practices in regards to improving access for disabled travellers, as well as ticketing terms and conditions.

Andrew Haines, CEO of the CAA, commented: “Findings from our research show that UK consumers collectively may be paying between £160 million to £390 million per year for allocated seating. Of those paying, two-thirds spent between £5 and £30 per seat and a further 8 per cent paid £30 or more. Our work will consider whether or not these charges are fair and transparent.”

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