Recently, some consumers have reported that the online check-in of China Southern Airlines on international flights is "ugly", and the number of free seats available in the system is very small, accounting for only 6% of all seats. There are also passengers complaining on social media that the aisle "seat" also needs to be paid, and you can only sit in the "sandwich seat" without paying; Free 3 seats are not provided, family members must pay to sit together...

A reporter from Beijing Youth Daily learned that since Hainan Airlines first introduced the "seat selection fee" on international flights in 2013, domestic full-service airlines such as China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines have successively "tested the waters" of paid seat selection services on international, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan flights. The Beiqing News reporter investigated the paid seat selection of airlines, and there was no situation where you could only sit in "sandwich seats" and "back rows of seats" without paying, but it is true that about half of the economy class seats on international routes of domestic airlines need to pay for seat selection in advance.


No payment, only "sandwich seats"

Consumer Ms. Lao posted that "ordinary seat selection also forces people to pay, otherwise they will sit in the last row." Ms. Lo purchased an economy class ticket, and in the past, only seats with more legroom such as front row seats, window seats, and emergency exits had to pay for seat selection, but now even regular seats in the aisle also need to be paid. She did not pay to choose a seat, and later at the check-in counter she was told that there was only a "sandwich seat" in the middle, which was very frustrating.

In addition, some passengers complained that the Beijing-Osaka flight on the 21st was operated by an Airbus 330-300 twin-aisle large passenger aircraft with 283 seats, and the number of free seats available to "Pearl Card Ordinary Card" users was only 17, only 6% of all seats.

Netizen "Qinger" posted a picture on a social platform saying that she took a round-trip flight from Guangzhou to Jakarta of China Southern Airlines, and found that when she checked in on the App, "On the outbound journey, there is only one blue seat I can choose, and the rest are all yellow or gray." Yellow seats cost 1 RMB or 350,7000 miles, while gray seats are not available; There are a few more free seats on the return trip, but they are also pitiful. There are also passengers who complain and question: "paid seat selection" has changed its taste - passengers no longer pay for "good seats", but do not pay only "sandwich seats" and "rear seats".

There is also feedback from passengers that many international flights have a charge for the optional triple seat. This means that consumers must rush to the airport early on the day of departure to "grab" three consecutive seats, or pay for seat selection according to the price given by the airline. The passenger reported that on the flight she was flying, the economy class paid seats ranged from 100-350 yuan. According to the airline's current paid seat selection price, a family of three who wants to sit together will need to pay a minimum of 600 yuan for a round trip.


Seat selection pays, but the service does not keep up

Passenger Ms. Lu traveled with her children, considering that the first row of seats in economy class is more spacious, and in order to make it more convenient to get on and off the plane, she exchanged her points for seats 38A and 38B in front of her. As a result, after boarding, Ms. Lu found that the aircraft type of the flight was changed from Airbus 321 to Airbus 320, and the first row of "big seats" she had exchanged for points had been replaced with 35K and 35J - the space of these two seats was exactly the same as in the back row, and there was no more space.

Therefore, Ms. Lu called the airline, and the customer service said that because the first row of seats was still changed for passengers after changing the aircraft, she did not inform in advance. Ms. Lu believes that passengers should be informed of the change of flight, rather than "black without mention white" directly changing seats. In this regard, Ms. Lu believes that there is no essential difference between exchanging points for the first row position and paying for it. Seat selection makes payment, but the service obviously does not keep up.


China Southern Airlines: Other seats have been pre-selected by passengers

The Beiqing News reporter contacted the relevant customer service of various airlines for paid seat selection. The results show that the proportion and number of free seats open vary from airline to airline and flight to flight.

The relevant person in charge of China Southern Airlines said in an interview that about 50% of the seats on China Southern Airlines international flights are currently open for passengers to choose for free, and about 6% of the free seats are not in line with the actual situation. The screenshot provided by the consumer shows only 6% of the free seats, mainly because the other free seats have been pre-selected by other passengers when the passenger selects their seats. Taking the Beijing-Osaka flight CZ317 as an example, the flight has a total of 330 seats, including 300 in economy class and 282 free seats provided by China Southern Airlines. Passengers can choose a seat according to the information found in the App, if they do not want to pay or choose a free seat, they can check whether there is a suitable seat at the counter check-in, and the seat at check-in is first-come, first-served.

In addition, the relevant person in charge of China Southern Airlines also said, "In view of the rapid increase in international flight passengers after the epidemic, the auxiliary revenue team is opening more free seats for passengers to choose. ”

According to the customer service of China Eastern Airlines, at present, the economy class seats of China Eastern Airlines outbound flights only account for about 30%, generally speaking, the economy class will be charged from row 31 to row 41, but nearly 70% of the seats in the back row are free of charge. However, there are also cases where some free seats are locked at the airport, "considering that there are passengers who check in at the counter on the same day, if the free seats available online have been selected, passengers can go to the counter to select seats."

A number of airline customer service also said that if consumers do not particularly mind choosing a seat on a flight, they can choose a free seat at check-in, or they can automatically obtain a seat at the counter before boarding. If the flight is full, the last passenger who has not paid for seat selection and checks in last may indeed only have "sandwich seats" and "rear seats". If the last remaining seat is "front row" or "window seat", passengers still have the opportunity to pick up a good seat for free.


Why airlines are constantly charging for more seat selection

So, why do domestic airlines charge a "seat selection fee"? How does the "seat selection fee" affect the profitability of airlines?

Public information shows that since the summer of 2011, major American airlines such as American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines have begun charging for some special seats on their planes. Delta, JetBlue, United for extra charges for seats with more legroom; American Airlines and United States Airlines charge additional charges for window and aisle seats at the front of the aircraft; Loyal Air and Spirit Airlines passengers must pay if they want to select seats in advance, otherwise they can only wait for seat allocation at check-in. According to the data, American airlines collected about $2018.42 billion from "seat selection fees" in <>.

According to a recent survey by aviation research institute IdeaWorks and CarTrawler, a B2B technology platform, ancillary revenue for global airlines jumped from US$10.2013 billion in 426 to more than US$2022 billion in 1020 in about 2022 years. It is worth mentioning that despite the great impact of the epidemic, ancillary operating income in 2019 is almost the same as the $1095.2022 billion in 15. The proportion of ancillary revenue to a company's total revenue shows that many airlines are increasingly dependent on ancillary revenue. In <>, ancillary revenue accounted for <>% of a company's total revenue, an all-time high.

From a domestic point of view, although since 2013, a number of full-service airlines have successively "tested the waters" of paid seat selection services on international, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan flights, there are no relevant revenue statistics.

According to a number of industry insiders, airlines can increase their total passenger revenue, in addition to increasing fares, they can also achieve their goals by increasing ancillary revenue. The main reason why airlines continue to want to grab more "seat fees" is that the profit margin of the civil aviation industry is not high, usually only 1%-2%, and ancillary revenue such as check-in seats does not seem to contribute much to revenue, but it contributes greatly to profits.


American Airlines' "seat selection fee" has also caused dissatisfaction

On social media, "how to avoid paying seat fees" has become a hot topic for people's travel tips. Netizens also shared various posts of "anti-pit" strategies.

According to a survey, 50% of American passengers expressed disgust with the "seat selection fee". Some foreign passengers also complained that airlines can tap the "potential" of making money, but they should also consider consumers' feelings and acceptance. For example, Ryanair's previous plan to introduce paid toilets on the plane had to be abandoned due to passenger boycott.

The most criticized issue with paid seat selection is that airlines may randomly seat children and accompanying adults when they do not pay.

One mother said angrily that she and her husband and two young children (ages 3 and 6) were in Hawaii preparing to board a flight from Maui to Oahu, and when they walked into the gate to scan their boarding passes, they found that four people were placed in four non-adjacent seats, which was very "outrageous".

In March, the U.S. Department of Transportation called on airlines to ensure that younger children sit with accompanying adults at no extra charge.

This group of text/reporter of this newspaper Lin Lishuang

Co-ordinator/Yu Meiying