Canadians are getting used to paying extra to reserve a seat on a flight but some airlines are restricting options for single riders and that is raising questions about the ‘pay for your seat’ policy.
Canadian airlines are well in the black these days, thanks in large part to ancillary revenue, which are the extra fees for things like checking a bag or reserving a seat.
The ‘pay for your seat’ regime has created some new problems, so some airlines have made more rules that further restrict passengers' options.
Jacky Hyde recently travelled to the Dominican Republic and was fully prepared to pay the extra $50 for an aisle seat on the Air transat flight.
She had her credit card ready and was surprised when a message popped up on her computer from Air transat’s seat selection site telling her that as a single passenger, she could not book the seat she had chosen because it would ‘prevent two passengers from sitting together’.
“I thought it was a little asinine and I felt, it felt pretty bad saying that a single traveller is worth less than what a couple might be,” said Hyde.
Hyde called Air transat and asked a supervisor about the reason behind the rule and to see if they could override the seat selection system.
“I was on the phone with them for more than 45 minutes and no one really had an answer other than management decided this is what the policy was going to be.”
She says she was not given an explanation and was not able to book or pay for her seat.
“It’s mind boggling that, okay, they make all these rules to make money, and then I’m saying, okay, I’m willing to pay you for it, well, no, no, no you actually can't,” she said.
Hyde contacted CTV Calgary’s Consumer Specialist Lea Williams-Doherty, who called Air transat for clarification on the policy.
Air transat said, "...[our] system automatically rejects any request… For a seat selection creat[ing] an empty seat between two people ... If we have many passengers scattered in the aircraft causing empty seats, it makes assigning seats for families and couples at the airport much more difficult."
Airline passenger rights advocate Dr. Gabor Lukacs says airlines can generally set their own seat sale rules.
“Legally there's nothing wrong with it. It is odd, Air transat may lose some business as a result and that may be, again, a business decision for Air transat to decide. If passengers are going to vote with their feet and not book with Air transat on account of this, that is their choice,” said Lukas.
Hyde says it sounds like the airline wants to have its cake and eat it too by maximizing seat revenue but minimizing the hassle when people won't pay.
She says with the changing rules and fees sometimes air passengers need to push back.
“If you don't say something, you don't stand up, soon you're not going to be able to travel just because you can’t afford to even get out of the airport,” said Hyde.
Air transat's spokesperson says travellers who find themselves in the same position should contact the company's call centre so seat demand can be evaluated.
Hyde says she did just that two days before the flight but no accommodation was made.
Lea also contacted Air Canada and WestJet and was told by both airlines that they will sell any seat available to anyone.
(With files from Lea Williams-Doherty)