Why families may have to pay more to sit together on flights

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A family or a group of friends travelling together by air may end up sitting separately unless they pay for selecting seats next to each other. This is because more than 50% of seats are available for prior selection. Airlines charge heavily for this service.

For a family of three on board a flight from, say Mumbai to London, the additional one-way cost of sitting together would come to Rs. 9,000 on Air India. It would be Rs. 4,500 on Jet Airways, and if the bulkhead (divider that separates classes)/exit row seats with more legroom are chosen, the fee would soar by Rs. 10,500.

After the Indian aviation regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), put a cap on baggage fees and cancellation fees, airlines have turned to seat selection fee to raise their ancillary revenue from non-ticket sources.

High charges

 National carrier Air India charges Rs. 500 per seat on all domestic flights including domestic sectors of international flights. For international flights, it puts a blanket price of Rs. 3,500 per seat on flights to the US and Rs. 3,000 per seat on flights to the UK, Far East, Europe and Australia.

In the case of Jet Airways, the charges for domestic sector range from Rs. 149 to Rs. 749 (centre seat is charged lowest). On exit rows the charge for window, aisle or centre is the same – Rs. 749. For international flights, for instance, between India and London, the charge is Rs. 3,500 for exit rows and Rs. 1,500 for a window seat on other rows.

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The airlines claim that seats which can be selected for a price provide comfort of extra leg space and that of deplaning much faster upon arrival. The charges for preferred seat selection vary and depend upon which row the seat is in, whether it is an aisle seat or a window seat, or for a more leg room seat. Jet Airways even varies the rates according to the travel dates/month with higher peak season pricing.

CERC writes to DGCA

CERC has written to DGCA requesting it to stop airlines from charging exorbitant and arbitrary seat selection charges. Consumers should be protected from being made to pay charges over and above the ticket cost.

Unfair practice: Seat selection for preferred seats can be provided as a special service, where a few seats are allocated for assignment with charges. It cannot be for more than half the seats on the aircraft.

Families should be seated together: It should be mandatory for airlines to allocate seats together for tickets booked together. Children and young adults as well as older people are usually accompanied by family members. How can the airlines force them to sit separately unless they pay additional charges to sit together? This is also applicable to passengers who may be sick or frail.

 Action requested

  • Passengers making a booking together, whether a family or otherwise, should by default be assigned seats together without additional charges, irrespective of the seats being window or aisle seats.
  • Guidelines should be issued for the maximum amount of such fees chargeable to protect consumers from being forced to pay irrational and exorbitant charges.
  • DGCA should issue revised guidelines on all the charges that airlines can levy for unbundled services (ancillary revenue sources).
  • Airlines should prominently display the guidelines on their website for passengers to refer to readily. Booking portals and offices of airlines as well as booking agents should also be required to prominently display all charges. This is necessary both for creating awareness and providing information to consumers.

Sources: timesofindia.indiatimes.com, CERC representation to DGCA, https.jetairways.com, www.airindia.in

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