The UK Civil Aviation Authority has launched a review of airline allocated seating polices after conducting consumer research that showed the current approach to allocated seating is causing confusion.
The CAA research of over 4,000 consumers who have flown as part of a group (of two or more people) in the last year, found that just over half of respondents reported that their airline informed them before they booked their flight that they would need to pay to ensure their group could sit together.
At the same time, ten per cent of passengers reported they had been informed after they booked.
A further ten per cent said that they were never made aware by their airline that they may need to pay more to guarantee sitting together.
Although the vast majority of respondents were aware that they might not be able to sit together even if they booked as a group, almost half believed that their airline would automatically allocate them seats together.
Andrew Haines, chief executive of the CAA, said: “Airline seating practices are clearly causing some confusion for consumers.
“Airlines are within their rights to charge for allocated seats, but if they do so it must be done in a fair, transparent way.
“Our research shows that some consumers are paying to sit together when, in fact, they might not need to.
“It also suggests that consumers have a better chance of being sat together for free with some airlines than with others.
“The research shows that it is the uncertainty around whether their group will be split up by the airline that is driving consumers to pay for an allocated seat.”
As the body responsible for protecting and promoting the interests of consumers travelling by air, the Civil Aviation Authority will seek more information from airlines about their allocated seating practices to find out whether consumers are being treated fairly, and whether pricing policies are transparent.
The CAA will work programme on behalf of passengers in 2018 will include a number reviews into airline practices including allocated seating, improving access to air travel for people with disabilities, and ticketing terms and conditions.
Haines added: “As part of the review, we will be asking airlines to provide information on their policies and practices.
“We will be looking into how airlines decide where to seat passengers that have booked as part of a group and whether any airlines are pro-actively splitting up groups of passengers when, in fact, they could be sat together.
“We will not hesitate to take any necessary enforcement action should it be required at the end of the review.”