No Free Seats Available On Flights? Survey Says 1 In 3 Consumers Have Faced This!

Comfort is the foremost priority for air passengers and some consumers prefer to reserve seats according to their choice which can be availed by paying extra, from INR 200 to INR 1500, especially for seats in the front and emergency rows as they offer more legroom. This means that consumers can reserve their preferred seats on the plane by paying extra during the booking or web check-in. In case the consumer doesn’t wish to purchase a preferred seat, airlines are supposed to ensure that there are enough free seats available for them to select from during web check in. However, many consumers have been complaining on LocalCircles and Twitter about some airlines still charging a fee for allotment of all seats on the plane and there is not a single seat kept for free allocation.

Such incidents including some airlines even charging for web check in had prompted the Ministry of Civil Aviation to issue an advisory on August 1, 2022 stating that there will be no charges for web check-in in scheduled domestic airlines. However, some airlines continue to charge consumers extra for all seats on the plane.

Last year, a parliamentary panel called the practice of charging passengers a fee for seat selection “arbitrary and unjustifiable”. The committee stated that all seats in the same flight should have the same fare and quoted the aircraft rules, 1937 which specifically mentions that fares should be reasonable and should maintain reasonable profit.

Taking cognisance of the complaints and to understand the extent of the issue, LocalCircles conducted a survey to understand from Indian consumers if they received an option to secure a free seat in airplane when making a booking in the last 12 months. It also sought to know how much extra they paid for reserving a preferred seat. It then gathered consumer feedback on the maximum percentage of seats in an airplane which airlines should be permitted to charge as a seat allocation fee. The survey received more than 30,000 responses were received from citizens residing in 351 districts of India. 65% respondents were men while 35% respondents were women. 48% respondents were from tier 1, 28% from tier 2 and 24% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts.

Here are the results-

  1. Over 1 in 3 consumers surveyed say the airline they booked in the last 12 months did not give an option to secure a free seat.
  2. 2 in 3 consumers surveyed who booked flights in the last 12 months say they paid extra fee for reserving a seat once or more; 34% of them said they had to pay every single time.
  3. LocalCircles receives large number of complaints about some airlines either displaying no free seats or just a handful of seats during the booking/web check in process.
  4. 6 in 10 consumers surveyed want Government to cap paid seat allocations in a flight at 30%.

In summary, over 1 in 3 consumers who booked flights in the last 12 months say the airline was charging extra fee for allotment of each seat on the plane.

Furthermore, 2 in 3 consumers who booked flights in the last 12 months say they paid extra fee for reserving a seat once or more. Of whom, 34% said they had to pay every single time. As complaints continue to pour both against established airlines as well as recently launched airlines, it is crucial that Government mandates and enforces that airlines do not charge seat allocation fee for every seat. The Ministry of Civil Aviation and the DGCA must also seriously consider the collective consumer recommendation which suggests that airlines should be mandated to not charge seat allocation fee for more than 30% of the seats on a flight.

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