Why It Makes Sense For British Airways To Charge For Seat Assignments

While many airlines charge for advance seat assignments in economy nowadays, one of British Airways’ most egregious policies is that they also charge for seat assignments in business class.

It’s crazy that you can pay $10,000+ for a business class ticket and then be asked to shell out further cash just to select a seat. The cost to assign seats in British Airways business class in advance is as follows:

  • Seats in European shorthaul Club Europe cabin start from £20/€24/$30
  • On longer international flights, seats in Club World cabin start from £55/€66/$83

As you can see, those are starting prices. In other words, seat assignments on many longhaul flights will run you $100+ each way.

I find that policy to be ridiculous, but at the same time having recently flown British Airways’ longhaul business class, I can see one benefit to these fees.

What I’ve realized is that the quality of seats in British Airways’ longhaul business class is wildly variable. Window seats are so much better than aisle seats, and of course better than the center seats. Most of British Airways’ longhaul fleet features eight seats per row in business class, which is obscene.

When you have a window seat you at least have some privacy, in the sense that the divider goes up after takeoff and then you’re in your own cocoon. The seat and sleeping space is extremely narrow, though.

British-Airways-Business-Class-21
British Airways A380 Club World window seat

But at least you can sleep in full privacy. It’s still a bit awkward, since either the flight attendants will have to serve you over the divider, or otherwise come around near the ottoman, neither of which is ideal. But the impracticality of being served in a window seat is a small price to pay for the added privacy.

British-Airways-Business-Class-3
British Airways A380 Club World window seat

Meanwhile if you’re in an aisle seat you’ll feel completely exposed. You don’t even have a proper armrest on the aisle side, and there’s no divider around your head to give you any sense of privacy.

British-Airways-Business-Class-2
British Airways A380 Club World aisle seat

Like, there’s truly no privacy whatsoever.

British-Airways-Business-Class-5
British Airways A380 Club World aisle seat

Worst of all are the center seats. I can’t even imagine being seated in them with a stranger, as you have about as much shoulder space as in economy.

British-Airways-Business-Class-11
British Airways 777 Club World center seats

In theory I suppose that seems practical if you’re traveling with someone, but really it’s not. The combination of window and aisle seats are actually good for people traveling together, as you’re basically facing one another. This is ideal if you’re traveling with someone, and super awkward during takeoff and landing if you’re seated across from a stranger.

British-Airways-Business-Class-5
British Airways 777 Club World window & aisle seats

None of which is to suggest that I support British Airways charging for seat assignments in business class. Rather I think Ford made a good observation an hour into out British Airways flight — “I can’t believe they charge the same for all these seats, because the window seats are so much better.”

Similarly, JetBlue’s Mint class has both “suites” and standard seats in the cabin, as the cabin alternates between four seats per row and two seats per row.

JETBLUE AIRWAYS MINT PRIVATE SUITE
JetBlue Mint Class cabin

They charge the same for all seats, and you can guess which seats are first to get booked up…

JetBlue-Mint

While first come first serve makes sense on one hand, keep in mind that those typically booking in advance also get the lowest fares. Those paying the highest fares are getting the least desirable seats. Which is ultimately fine, but there’s something about it which doesn’t seem like the “perfect” system.

Bottom line

While I find British Airways’ policy of charging for seat assignments in business class to be borderline insulting, I did find there to be a huge difference in quality between seats. The window seats on British Airways are actually quite nice, while the aisle seats have no privacy, and the middle seats are sort of laughable.

I suppose by charging for seats they’re at least creating some barrier to all the good seats being booked up earlier. While many companies will pay for business class, lots of people don’t want to personally shell out for the cost of a seat assignment.

Anyone else have a huge preference for the window seats in Club World over the aisle and center seats?

Comments

  1. I can’t believe anyone would actually pay for ANY of those seats. This looks like pure garbage. I’d much rather fly a US carrier’s biz class, they’re pretty good nowadays.

  2. I’m taking my wife to London for her birthday as a surprise next year and booked us into business on a 787-8. Now you’ve got me wondering which seats I want for us. I was assuming two middles, but that does look tight. And as for window/aisle, since she prefers the aisle that might be unfortunate for her. Hmmmm

  3. There’s a certain logic here, but most people don’t realize just how bad the seating is in British Airways Club World compared to the better international business products, or how some seats are so much worse than others.

    Ironically British Airways was once a pioneer in business class seating, they led the way fully flat in business. They’ve just gotten left so far behind.

    Ultimately I don’t think they charge for business class seat assignments when paying less than full fare because their seats are so bad. You’ve got a great plausible explanation for the policy. I just don’t think that’s actually the real reason. 😉

    Truth is I actually never minded BA’s rear-facing last-generation fully flat Club World seats. Narrow, sure, with no storage space but really not that bad and a small cabin.

    Now though would you rather fly American or BA between the US and Heathrow? Unquestionably AA, except on the handful of flights still operating with older angled business class. And having a preference for AA’s inflight product really says something.

  4. Won’t fly them for business – employer won’t pay for reservations and I don’t have enough EC points to make it free (catch 22 that).

    Additionally I will actively seek out certain aircraft dependent on carrier to get the right seats (herringbone FTW – no staggered layouts if I can help it).

    Food aside – Europe to US is currently a toss up between AA and DL – the former for the new 777 and the latter for the new A333…

  5. I should note that when I, an AA Plat, purchased an I fare during the fantastic October sale, I was able to get a seat assignment, by brothers and parents not so much.

    Seems that Spirit-style “a la carte” pricing has made it to BA C. But, given that my status provides so many a la carte items free, I am not impacted. Indeed, I am best off in a world where base fares are $1, but breathing air (free to elites) otherwise costs $10,000. An absurd example, of course, but giving me a la carte items free and reaching into non-statused co-passengers wallets to keep the plane otherwise in the air is pretty nice.

  6. I certainly understand the logic of charging for seat assignments on award or comp biz tickets. However on revenue tickets this is as you said “insulting”. I’m even OK with reserving certain better seats, but an across the board fee is stupid. BA needs to change this policy.

  7. Ultimately it think BA needs a cabin retrofit. Bigger and better IFE Screens in Y, Better Seats and service in J, Fully enclosed suite in F with better service and food , New lounges and maybe wifi. But charging 10k+ for this product is an insult. How i wish they could see this considering they’re my favourite airline.

  8. So, when the BA sale happened, Delta matched. Suddenly, the charge to pick the seat became the deciding factor. Delta from BNA to FRA through ATL with free seat assignments on an A330? A no brainer. Sorry BA. See ya.

  9. I’m a AA Elite and flew an ancient 767 from LHR to BWI in Club World. The hard product awful. But that’s another story.

    If folks switch out their Executive Club number and are a One World Sapphire or higher in another program, there is no fee pick a seat. Works like a charm.

  10. British Airways only charges for seat selection in advance of check in (usually 24hrs before the flight). When you check in its free for everyone (except on intra Europe cabin baggage only fares). You only pay if you want to pick your seat in before then unless you have status in which case it’s free (Silver and above)

  11. Lucky: “Worst of all are the center seats. I can’t even imagine being seated in them with a stranger, as you have about as much shoulder space as in economy.”

    Well don’t be an idiot dear by selecting a seat there when travelling solo, if having any sort of interaction with a stranger isn’t your bag. I’ve had some fascinating conversations with complete strangers. I’ve also had some fantastic flights with my husband in those middle pair of seats – when you’re in there with the dividers up then you’re in a lovely little cocoon for 2, just like the window seat is a cocoon for 1.

    BTW – CW seats are 20″ & 3rd World Traveller is 17.5″ wide but who knows, maybe a further 2.5″ is nothing for you.

    Don’t forget, we both have an opinion – it doesn’t make either of us right, no matter how many page views you get.

  12. Just flew the Long Haul from LHR to San Diego with BA…What a joke! Never again, and NEVER would I pay extra in business class for one of their seats…ABSOLUTELY NOT WORTH it….Food was average at best…..more like cattle car food, reheated and just served on china plates. As you mentioned, even the window seats are tight and cramped….Even Delta’s configuration in business, although it’s not a direct flight is Far Superior, and I would gladly make the extra stop, for the comfort and convenience, of a Delta flight.

  13. There is no doubt that the middle eastern A380 based biz product far exceeds legacy European and US hard product.

    That BA charges for biz seat assignment is indeed egregious, even though it does not apply to their Silver & Gold elite. Just a crazy piece of penny pinching dreamt up by their accountants no doubt.

    As egregious – while we are using that word – is that BA have withdrawn complimentary seat assignment to Silver & Gold who book their hand luggage only fares.

    Overall, BA are steadily dismantling their premium products to see how low they can go and still get people to pay. They seem to be making more efforts towards Premium Economy than biz.

    Very sad, since their original flat bed was a true deal breaker.

  14. FWIW IME BA hands out free seat reservations to their corporate customers in Business and usually in Economy as well. So it’s not really a policy they’re applying uniformly. Just to people without corporate pull.

  15. How in the world would a $100 fee be a barrier to people shelling out thousands of dollars (or tens of thousands of miles plus hundreds of dollars in bogus fees) for a flight?

    And I agree with the poster above that you truly have no concept of what really qualifies as “egregious”.

  16. Thanks Lucky. I wanted to burn the rest of my BA miles and booked business class PHX to LHR for my husband and I next April. I balked at paying for advance seat assignments. After reading your post, I reluctantly coughed up $260 so we could travel window/ aisle. This is too long a flight to suffer a middle seat.
    I find it amusing that they also charge for advance seating on the LHR to TLS leg which is three and three with the middle seat blocked. Needless to say they are getting nothing for that leg. After this trip it is bye,bye BA.

  17. @mkcol
    2.5″ might just as well not exist. You’re paying several times more for the product and you barely get any more side space than in economy?

    That’s premium economy width at best. It’s ridiculous. I’d like to also point out SQ J is almost twice the width – 34″.

  18. Hmmmm? “Ridiculous?” “Absurd?” “Insulting?” There’s a lot of words that can be applied to BA’s decision to charge for seat selection in J. None of them mask the fact that they have an variable and inferior product, and they have decided to monetize the deficiencies in this way. It sounds like a DL move, only they haven’t said that they did it “because their customers asked for it.”

    Sorry it doesn’t “make sense” that they’re charging for seat selection. In this case I can’t agree with your logic. The scariest part of it all is that if we take this logic and extend it, the airlines will start pricing every single seat on the plane differently based on demand with the worst seat being priced inline with current pricing and surcharges tacked on for Good-Better-Best-BetterThanBest locations after that.

  19. @James K. I believe that the British airways club seats are in a 2-3-2 configuration on the 787. Having flown club on a BA 787, I would recommend an aisle and window as you and your travel companion could sit facing one another and thus dine together.

  20. If you have BA bronze you can select your seat for free 72 hours before the flight, which I have found is usually enough time to snag one of the better business class seats. With silver membership, you get free seat assignment when you book.

    Most BA long-haul flights are still on a 747, and then I always choose the upper deck, where there are no center seats, and it is much quieter than downstairs. To me being in the “bubble” is a must.

    The “two together” centre seats only work for a couple, and BA do seem to allocate those to couples anyway, which you can change for free within 24 hours, if anything better is available.

    More generally, BA first and business class needs to be re-vamped. It was a superior product when first introduced (15 years ago?) and was much better than United and American. But time has not smiled on BA and at this point I’d rather fly (LHR-LAX) on Virgin or Air New Zealand, both of which have just one premium cabin – the Business/First concept.

  21. The seat density is 20-30% greater than the cirrus seat, not double like a 2-4-2 vs 1-2-1 implies. That’s because they have fewer rows in the same amount of space. I’m bored of hearing the 8 across argument as its not an accurate reflection of the area per seat, and it does a disservice to you blog readers who just pile on.

    Anyone with OWE or OWS status doesn’t pay for a seat assignment, and neither does anyone with a $10,000 full fare ticket, it’s just the status-less on a discount ticket that want an advance seat. Even OWR get to pick a seat seven days in advance. Regardless, it leaves better seats longer for status passengers.

    BA offers more nonstop TATL routes than any other airline, and offer the only nonstop from my home airport. I’d rather spend more time on a BA seat than on a domestic F seat.

    While BA F is certainly better than CW, I actually prefer 62A/K or 64A/K over the cirrus seat. I find both the BA CW seats and the cirrus seats in AA/US/CX uncomfortable enough though that I bring my own bedding. If I cannot get 62AK or 64AK I’ll usually book in first.

    There are two scenarios where the lower deck middle seat pair is ok: very empty flights when a pair of seats is really nice (had this to/from India), or when flying with a family and you choose a block of 4 seats. My wife and I actually like the middle pair when flying together, if it’s the last row in the cabin, though you can usually only reserve that pair in advance if flying with a baby.

  22. It seems there’s a lot of things here not to love. Charging pax for seat assignments is offensive at best Doing so for C class is just terrible. As to the configuration, anything less than 22″ wide seating in business class on any airline is suboptimal no matter what. Maybe you could do a post on better products at low prices, particularly with the upcoming award mAAssacre.

  23. @ Eric — Yet most people don’t assign seats in advance, so how would you explain that? You think people just don’t care about what seats they get, or…?

  24. @ @mkcol — And absolutely respect your opinion, and am happy there are others who like the seats. More seats for all of us that way!

  25. You can’t compare with the Jetblue’s case. You are arguing that a customer who booked in advance at low fare shouldn’t be given priority to a lastminute purchaser at much higher price. You are implying higher revenue is always more important to the airlines, but that’s not always the case. Having an advanced reservation for revenue and load prediction is quite valuable info to the airline. There’s a reason why airlines discount their tickets early on to lure customers for early reservation. Such commitment should be valued for, not discriminated against.

  26. Realistically, given that most people don’t pay for advance seat selection, are decent window seats available 24 hours out (where you don’t have to pay to pick them)? Not sure I would fly them given your last post about the flight attendant, but if I had to…

  27. Once they did the companion pass bait and switch I backed off and as they have made more changes I am very happy that BA is in my rear view mirror……………damn colonists…………..

  28. It’s a shame, because BA use to be one of the leaders until Willie Walsh rolled into town a decade again and quickly set EasyJet as the benchmark to beat in the premium cabins. “We are better than EasyJet” should be their global slogan…while showing their J seat. Even third world carriers have better J class seats now.

    The fact is that LHR is the European premium gateway and commands the highest yields (dumb, but true). They know there are enough people who will take their crap product over changing planes in Europe or the MidEast, and over the Atlantic the carriers are still not at their best, BUT getting there. Plus many older Brits are snobs when it comes to flying foreign carriers, so that is in their favor… for now until that generation is in the ground.

    Premium Econ makes them the most money per square foot, so they invest in that.

    DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A BETTER CW CABIN.

    What they trotted out on the 787-9 in First (basically an AA, CX J seat) again, for F …what on earth do you think will go in J when the new seat comes out. They could surprise us, and they better since their partner airlines AA and Finnair offer much superior new products. IB is not bad I hear.

    Every blog see’s similar comments to the above when talking about BA’s Club World. It’s a global disgrace!!!!!

    BA, you need to put in the same seat as your OneWorld partners and call it a day!! Many decades of goodwill are going down the toilet and the newer generations are NOT the snobs and will fly the foreign carriers.

  29. I had award travel in First on BA from Orly-Heathrow-Seattle…Because there is no first class from Orly to Heathrow, I had to shell out more bucks to pick my seats….I was not too amused, however, I flew on the fateful day in Paris and I was very happy to have had BA fly me home….First class on BA was amazing…and the lounge is the best thing I have seen. I have flown previously in first from BA and it has always been exceptional….However that business class flight out of Paris was the pits…I would not have wanted to spend miles on that…On the other hand, they both beat the business class seats I had on AA from Seattle to Rome….Now that was the real pits….could not even plug my own headset in….No TV, barely any entertainment, crappy food, long flight not made any better by the crew personnel..

  30. My wife and I flew LHR-SEA in Club World on a 777 in the middle pair, and we loved it. Observations:

    -The seat cushions are well-padded. I noticed it immediately upon sitting down.

    -The seat pan was angled comfortably back, unlike seats in Y which are parallel with the floor. All in all a very comfortable seat.

    -Regarding the 8-across: this is because you get the ENTIRE bed length as your seat pitch: not just down to your knees, forcing you to stuff your feet and legs into a confining, uncomfortable cubbyhole (like on Delta and AA). I for one do NOT love the reverse-herringbone seat – It’s so TIGHT! We flew Delta SEA-AMS on a 333 and I could not sleep one bit with my legs stuffed into that awful cubbyhole. My initial impression upon reaching our seats was, “Wow, this is very little legroom for business!” The panel containing your IFE screen and said foot cubby is right in front of you, and you’ve got this bulky console (for the legs of your neighbor behind you) rising up to one side, which turns your bed into a narrow canyon when in lie-flat, further restricting the movement of your arms and legs. On BA, you can sleep on your side, stretch your legs out and bend your knees – so comfortable.

    -We didn’t pay for seat reservations. We waited until 24 hours before check-in, knowing we wanted a middle pair, and aware that only 4 seats remained unreserved in the J cabin: 2 pair of center seats together.

    -We loved the private cabin-feel of the middle seats. With the dividers up, it was cozy and completely private. I was concerned about seat width prior to the flight, but we had no issues, finding it to be perfect. Obviously, I would not want to sit here next to a stranger. I don’t believe BA intended that when they designed these seats.

    -Service was typical BA “bare minimum” but food and drink were plentiful and enjoyable. There were little missteps like the timing being off between our aisles, making it difficult for us to dine together, forgetting a drink order, forgetting to bring chocolates down one aisle (but not the other) etc. but nothing so… egregious so as to spoil the experience.

    -Enjoyed the BA lounges in Geneva and at LHR. We even managed to get massages at the Elemis Spa, which I hear is quite a feat for lowly CW passengers who can only reserve for the spa same-day!

    -Love the TATL nonstop right to our hometown of Seattle. Love the smooth ride on the 773. Don’t love the fuel surcharges. The good far outweighs the bad, and it’s definitely a product we will fly again.

  31. Unfortunately I am one of those crazy people who pay to fly business and usually pay for the seat too.
    This is due in no small part to the fact that from London there are only 2 carriers who fly direct to where I work, and the fact of those 2, only BA serves alcohol and has a bed on the overnight flight. (I work in Saudi)
    I agree about window seats, it’s my seat of choice. As I book so early I get one every time, but resent paying £2000+ for flights and then paying for the seat.
    Flying home in 2 weeks, First Class this time. That takes me to BA Gold. Hopefully this means that paying for seat reservation is one of those things that’s behind me!

  32. Firstly, I do believe that when you’re paying for a Club Class seat, seat assignment should be included at time of booking. As it isn’t I usually pay, but what I object to is having my seat re-assigned without any notification from BA. And this isn’t because the plane configuration has changed. Twice this has happened to me, so I always check my booking every few days to make sure it hasn’t happened again. If BA feels it necessary to make a change how difficult is it to notify the passenger?

  33. First choice: Windows. We try to get two windows when we fly as a couple.

    Second choice (as a couple): the two middle seats. Don’t shoot it down until you try it. Gives you a large private space. Very easy to get access to the aisle. You do not need to ask the person in the aisle to get up, you can easily step over their footrest unless you are physically impaired or maybe very short (under 5 feet tall)

    Third: aisle. As Ben says no privacy

    Fourth: middle as a single. This is debatable with the aisle as at least in the middle no one is bumping you throughout the flight.

  34. Anyone who actually does enough paid flying (not just freeloading on rewards) to be OW sapphire or above gets free choice of seating in club world at the time of booking. If you don’t, then BA are kind enough to give you the option to book a seat whenever you like in exchange for a small fee relative to the savings you are probably making by travelling with BA. If you are still too tight to do this then you can take your chances at check-in!

  35. “one of British Airways’ most egregious policies is that they also charge for seat assignments in business class”

    adjective 1. extraordinary in some bad way; glaring; flagrant:

    Seems a perfect use of the word to me. 🙂

  36. I just booked BA JFK-LHR in Club and was not at all pleased to be quoted $125.00 each way to pick a seat! How did I get around it? I called BA back within 24 hours and changed my outbound flight to AA at no additional cost. I figured that since it was a 777-300, there would be no such thing as a bad seat if I waited till check-in to confirm a seat assignment. Well, after the booking was confirmed the BA agent told me that since it was AA I could pick my seat now for free! I’m set in 3J 🙂 It has been a while since I’ve flown BA and wanted to try it so will keep the return. It is also on 777. I am fully prepared to pay for a seat assignment. Any suggestions?

  37. Anyone who flies on BA and pays the ripoff surcharges is a moron. Also, the ripoff air duties to depart from UK.

  38. BA Club Class seating, especially window, while providing privacy, is really a poor design. In fact I would go as far as to say it is a safety risk as well. Getting in and out of the area is difficult (how it got past saftey regulations for passengers emergency evacuation is beyond me.

    If the passenger sitting in Aisle has his/her foot rest down or is asleep then getting out of the little cubby is very awkward to say the least. In an emergency people will not put their foot rests up they will just get off. I would definitly say that if you are elderly then avoid the window seat in BA club class.

  39. This article is incorrect. If you are paying $10,000 for a business class seat on BA the seat selection will be free as they do not charge the seat selection fee on their more expensive flexible tickets. See here quoted from British Airways website:

    Flexible fares, including Fully Flex, Plus Flex and Business UK allow you to reserve seats for free from the time of booking.
    Semi-flexible fares, including Semi-flex and Plus allow you to reserve seats for free from 48 hours before departure.

  40. Airlines should NOT charge extra for any seat if a passenger picks it. People that travel in groups have a RIGHT to fly together and pick their seats without any additional fee in the same class.

    These corporate scum that approved this idea should be executed but first watch their loved ones(if they have any) get brutally exterminated first just to see them howl and scream.

    Donald Trump 2016

  41. Traditionally people booking early got a better choice of seats and early booking was in the interests of the airline. My recent experience of the seat reservation process (24 hours before the flight) was that the website broke down. A nominal charge for reserving seats might be reasonable but charging an extra £40 each way for premium economy (£2,000) is wrong. The plane was filthy and the food terrible. BA have become a budget service airline but retained the premium prices.
    The answer here is don’t fly BA. That is the only way they will learn.

  42. I learned today that my expensive business class seats require even more $$$ to reserve a specific seat. This will be my first and last trip on BA until they are purchased by a large US based airline (probably soon given their crappy financial performance of late).

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