Yesterday British Airways announced new charges for some customers to make seat selections in advance.
The new policy, which takes effect from 7 October 2009, can be summarised as follows.
- First Class, BA Gold and Oneworld Emerald - can make seat selections any time after booking (no change).
- Fully flexible fare, BA Silver and Oneworld Sapphire - can make seat selections any time after booking except for exit row seats in World Traveller class (longhaul economy) and World Traveller Plus class (longhaul premium economy). These exit row seats require a fee and only available between 4 & 10 days prior to departure.
- Everyone else - can pay a fee to select seats (bigger fee for better seats & longer flights, up to £60 per person per flight!) in advance or wait until check in opens and select for free.
There is a lot of detail in the fine print - see BA's pages attempting to justify the new seating policy and attempting to summarise the new seating policy. The terms and conditions on that last page run to 23 bullet points. This detail means operational complexity and some terms seem particularly harsh - a paid for seat allocation can be changed by BA with no recourse, it is difficult to get a refund (and surprisingly any refund is not automatic in the event BA is unable to provide the better seat paid for).
I'm not convinced the new BA seating policy will work any better than the current one, which was only brought in less than 3 years ago (and also generated public complaints).
Mark Ashley of Upgrade : Travel Better opens his blog post about the changes with a quote from reader Hamish "The last bastion of decent airline customer service begins its inexorable slide towards Ryan-ism."
While I personally think that criticism is a bit over the top, I do see it as highly relevant. By introducing a seat selection charge, British Airways is moving more into the smorgasbord pricing approach adopted by some airlines. Currently these are predominantly used by low cost airlines such as Ryanair, however there are other full service airlines with a similar approach such as Air Canada.
If the fuss over these charges dies down then I think we will see more components being charged separately from the base fare, and not just by British Airways. It will be interesting to see what effect it has on the kangaroo route in particular where BA and Qantas co-operate so closely.