Would Globe Aware volunteers pay extra to have a free row of seats? Here's what you need to know about this new service!
A major airline is letting customers pay $30 for elbow room
Would you pay extra to have a free row of seats?
By Veronika Bondarenko
Oct 23, 2023
While many travelers will remember scoring that elusive free row of economy seats on an empty plane, even a single free seat next to you has become increasingly rare in 2023.
More and more, airlines are planning routes to minimize the number of planes flying half-empty and spreading out staff based on routes with the most travelers amid the surge of demand (and dearth of staff to meet it) post-pandemic.
While TikTok is currently bursting with dubious "travel hacks" promising to keep the seat next to one's ticketed place free, one airline is turning this around and offering it to those who pay.
Here's what you need to know about Qantas' new neighbor-free seating
Qantas Airways (QUBSF) , which is Australia's flagship air carrier, officially debuted its "Neighbour Free Seating" service on Oct. 21 – passengers who want to guarantee they do not have anyone sitting next to them on an international flight can pay $45 Australian dollars (roughly $28 USD) for flights between Australia and New Zealand, $100 AUD ($63 USD) for flights between Australia and Singapore and $225 ($142 USD) for long-haul flights between Australia and the U.S.
Airlines see a new kind of traveler at the front of the plane
All in all, the service will be available on 19 international flights and is meant to test how popular the option is before rolling it out to more and shorter flights. Some of the routes slated to have the option include Sydney-Dallas, Sydney-Honolulu and Los Angeles-Melbourne.
"The data shows it's most popular with customers on our longer flights between the east and west coasts, so rolling it out to our international flights makes a lot of sense," Qantas' Chief Customer And Digital Officer Catriona Larritt said in a statement.
As the service depends on how full the flight gets and the seat selection patterns of the travelers, one will only know if the service is available closer to departure — two days before the flight, Qantas will send those who are eligible an email asking them if they'd like to pay extra to ensure the seat next to them does not have a neighbor.
According to the seat selection map shared by Qantas, one will then be able to see a map of standard economy seats which can be booked with either the middle or window seat empty. Two people traveling together can also select to have an empty seat between or next to them.
Is neighbor-free seating the answer for decreasing plane seat sizes?
This service is currently available for economy travelers and is independent of getting an upgrade into premium economy. Qantas also warns that neighbor free seats "may need to be changed for operational, safety or security reasons even after boarding the aircraft" in which case the money paid will be refunded.
Qantas' experiment will show the industry how airlines can give passengers who need more space the opportunity to pay for it without outright charging two seats or losing money on seats flying empty.
Earlier this year, plus-size travel influencer Kirsty Leanne went viral for documenting how she asks flight attendants if they can find her a seat with an empty one next to it on flights — while flight attendants sometimes do this if there are free ones, other airlines may soon follow Qantas' lead in looking to turn this into a paid option.