a row of seats with monitors on them

There’s shoe softener in your bread, Oasis isn’t getting back together, Netflix upped their prices and flying cars aren’t yet a thing. Oh, and airlines charge for seat assignments. Headlines all over the world are pointing the finger at airlines for confusing customers – and they’re all wrong. There is nothing confusing about airline seating assignments. Much like the list that started this article, we don’t like this new phenomenon – but it’s here.

a seat in an airplaneYou Pay

If you’re not a frequent flyer, and you want to guarantee you’ll sit next to someone – you have to pay. It’s honestly simple. Every airline tells you if they charge for seating assignments before you book, so who you book with is up to you. Figure out the real cost of an airline ticket before you book by factoring in what it will cost to guarantee you’re seated with your companions by paying. Maybe the ticket that was $20 more expensive but came with seating assignments was the better choice, after all.


No airline has ever guaranteed everyone on a reservation will sit together. Even when people select seats together, sometimes people must be moved for reasons like wheelchair passenger requirements. There’s nothing new here. If you want a guarantee that you’ll be seated with your travel companions, just pay. If an airline splits you up after you’ve paid, you have a legitimate complaint – if you don’t, you don’t. If a team is on your flight and every player selects an aisle or window by paying in advance – there’s only one seat left for everyone else and they simply will not be together. Making sense?

a woman standing in a row of blue chairsFree World

It’s a free world, and airlines make more than 60 million a year charging for seats. It’s a new thing, and I dare you to find me a person who wouldn’t love to have stumbled upon a way to instantly make 60 million more a year, doing the exact same thing they were doing. I dare you! An airline choosing not to charge may have a competitive advantage in earning your booking, or an expensive hole to fill, depending on how you see the world.

Common Sense

If you want to sit together with someone you have two definitively easy choices. Find an airline that does not charge for advanced seats – they still exist. OR… ready for it, pay. Take either of those routes and you’ve got a seat next to your travel companion guaranteed. We think it sucks too, but businesses finding new ways to make money is hardly original or illegal. If you are split, you can still ask (politely) at an airline desk if there are ANY two seats next to each other. Don’t just give up and sulk.

a row of seats with monitors on the backVisualize

Now let’s assume most people do pay for seating assignments. Where do you think they’re going to pay to sit? No one says – ooh, let’s pay for a middle seat in the back. Passengers who pay for seat selection will opt for windows and aisles. Therefore, you and your companions will probably fill in the remaining middle seats – not together.


To summarize, there is no diabolic plot to ruin your travels by separating you from your friends, family or loved ones. You are just filling in the remaining seats which no one who paid to select a seat wanted. It’s that simple. Pay up or find an airline that doesn’t charge for seat assignments and of course – don’t forget to then select them. Simple enough, right?


Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation


  1. I agree with your well written article. (I really enjoy your blog, and visit at least once a day)
    However, I do feel that British Airways charging for selecting seats in Business Class is stretching to a new low. Just as you understand people with Status should select for free, people travelling in premium cabin such as Club World should be allowed too. (However i do understand Swiss which charges extra to pre-book the “Throne Seat”)

  2. Sorry but you are fundamentally wrong on this. The inquiry in the uk is around breaking families up and putting groups in individual seats apart from each other. That’s fine if the group is all adults but not when children are involved. Both easyJet and Ryanair are capable of sitting family groups together without charging yet BA (as an example) is not. Having used them on a family holiday (9 in total, 4 children under 10), not only were we all in separate seats but the kids were in emergency exit rows. Tried to change it but we were told it would cost so we told the kids to sit where they had been told knowing that the crew would have to move half the cabin around.

    Sadly I’ve had to use BA again this week (just myself) and I’m now a firm member of the ABBA club

  3. I completely agree with David above – this is not about paying for a seat, it is about airlines not being transparent about what they are doing. If they are clear that you will not sit together if you don’t pay for a seat, then you have a choice to make. But if the airline merely says ‘seats assigned at check in’ and then seat you at opposite ends of the plane when it is half empty (which had happened to me with several carriers in recent times), then that is not acceptable. I was recently charged the better part of £80 on a flight to Spain just to sit with my wife. The plane was half allocated when we checked in. Airlines should be forced to be transparent in these situations so the customer is able to make an informed cost comparison.

    1. I think there is simply no guarantee. I don’t travel with children but I do travel with my wife very frequently. If we fly Ryanair, I don’t chance it. The chance of sitting apart would ruin a flight for us, so we pay the fee. I generally find that if seats have been assigned and I ask politely (please keep in mind I am a nobody to airlines too) that agents are happy to see if there are any two seats together. I’ve never heard someone talking about a charge while at the airport.

  4. I have a friend who works for Amedeus the most commingle used booking system used by airlines. Airlines can ask for certain rules to be written into the booking software thus includes separating families which is just wrong. I normally agree with your blogs but on this occasion you are wrong I am afraid

    1. Andrew – if that’s true, it’s downright bad – and maybe the investigations should stick it to them.

      But my point is that everyone has a choice when they book a ticket. If you pay to assign seats, you get seated together. If you don’t, you risk it. This is a conscious choice people make as a consumer, before booking.

  5. Thanks for the nice article, I do agree with you and at some point I do disagree. Or probably airlines work differently.I am working with Singapore airlines and we only ask payment for forward seats or more legroom seats and if theres any vacant regular seats we always give that free to passengers, and also we dony allow minors to be sitted apart from their older companion, we instead swap the seats with other passenger in order for kids to be sitted next to parents. There are just some passengers who doesn’t really know how it works in airline industry.:) Cheers!

  6. I agree that your article is flawed. Airlines often aren’t transparent about the extra cost of seat allocation. I just booked flights with Qantas and at no point was the extra $140 cost (off a base of $600) mentioned until the very end of the process!
    I tried booking without allocating the return flight seats (on an empty plane) and we were separated (aisle aisle). There’s no legitimate reason for doing that at this stage off the booking process!
    And just because a business can do something doesn’t mean they should. These days we expect our businesses to be ethical. It’s false advertising and greedy. Bad look Qantas.

  7. The only valuable information I learned from this article is the 60 Billion dollar justification for charging for seat assignments.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *