Easyjet is commencing with its trial of allocated seating on a select number of routes from London Luton and Glasgow the airline announced today (March 27, 2012).
Business Traveller reported on the move back in November last year (see online news November 15, 2011), and can now confirm that flights from Luton to Sharm El Sheikh, Malaga, Alicante and Istanbul, and from Glasgow to Alicante, will all see the trial introduced over the summer period.
Easyjet chief executive Carolyn McCall said that the trial was being introduced because of customer feedback saying that the existing method of unallocated seating caused extra stress to the flying experience.
Feedback from passengers was, she said, “We know what seats we want, and we’re willing to pay for them”. In addition McCall said that research showed that the process of unallocated seating was also acting as a deterrent to some passengers.
The trial, which commences today, will see passengers travelling on one of the trial routes being notified in advance of the allocated seating. All passengers will have a seat allocated to them and the seat will be clearly marked on their boarding pass when passengers check in either online or at the airport. Passengers who wish to select a seat will be able to do so (subject to availability).
There will be three bands of pricing, dependent on the seat selected.
- £12 for extra leg room (front row and exit seats)
- £8 for up front seats (rows 2-5 on the A319 or 2-6 on an A320)
- £3 for any other seat
If passengers do not pay to select their seat, then one will be allocated for them. Below is a screen grab (provided by Easyjet) of what passengers will see when choosing between the three paid-for allocated seating options.
For passengers with the Easyjet Plus Card, which currently allows Speedy Boarding, seat selection will be included in the annual price (currently £129). In addition, those who select their premium seats will be allowed to board first.
McCall said the crucial part of the trial was determining whether it caused delays to Easyjet’s operations.
“It’s our biggest concern, and we are relying on communication to make sure passengers get to the gate on time. We will have to educate passengers of the importance of doing so, and we’ll do everything we can to cajole, persuade and marshal them there.”
Easyjet said that it has spent £5 million on the new computer system and an industry-leading algorithm which would ensure that all passengers travelling as families will be allocated seats together.
So far the system has been tested on 10,000 sample flights and 99.8 per cent of passengers get “...one of the best seating arrangements, for example, next to each other or, for a group of four, two and two behind.”
Easyjet admits that it does not know how many of the 20 or 30 premium seats will be booked by passengers, or indeed how many seats overall will be booked, but did say that certain seats will be reserved for passengers with specific needs, such as those with restricted mobility or adults with infants, and that the aircraft will comply with weight and balance rules.
Catherine Lynn, customer and revenue director at Easyjet, says that the trial will be extended to further routes in May including some business routes. At its peak some five percent of Easyjet passengers will be in the trial, which will be continually assessed over the summer period. Lynn says that the airline had looked at simply offering exit row seats for a premium while leaving the rest of the cabin unallocated at present, but decided against it.
“Managing a mixed cabin is very difficult,” Lynn comments. “If you arrive to the aircraft late, for instance, and someone is already in your seat then that is something the cabin crew have to police.”
David Downie, Easyjet’s Head of Commercial Development says that Easyjet has spoken with other non-competing carriers such as Westjet, Virgin Australia and Air Asia to compare best practice, and had come to the conclusion that the cabin crew didn’t like policing the seating, and in addition it took their attention away from the majority of passengers on board.
Downie says that the allocated seating software was developed in conjunction with a company linked with Aachen University in Germany, and together they had investigated some of the academic research on the most efficient ways of boarding aircraft, including window seats first or by blocks. He said that the research seems to suggest that boarding in a random fashion is most effective, whether passengers have allocated seating on board or not.
The most challenging period of the trial will be in the next few weeks, Easyjet admits, as those who have already booked their flights are contacted to be notified that their flights are part of the allocated seating trial. Lynn says that in addition, all holders of the Easyjet Plus Card will be communicated with and that they will be able to book a premium seat through the “My Easyjet” section of the Easyjet website from mid-April.
For more information visit easyjet.com.
Report by Tom Otley