Why Europe’s Low Cost Airlines Ditched Unallocated Seating

Southwest Airlines is known as the pioneer of low-cost carriers. However, while Southwest Airlines maintains its unallocated seating policy, no major LCCs in Europe offer unallocated seating anymore. Simple Flying decided to find out why.

Unallocated seating, Ryanair, easyJet
Some of Europe’s low-cost carriers never used to allocate seats. Photo: easyJet

Depending on the type of traveler you are, you could either love or hate allocated seating. While it can guarantee you sit with your loved ones, that privilege often comes at a cost on low-cost carriers. Meanwhile, with unallocated seating, if you’re first on the aircraft then you’re guaranteed a good seat, however, last on is left to take what remains.

When did the LCCs ditch unallocated seating?

Ryanair and easyJet are arguably Europe’s most well known low-cost airlines. While both airlines used to offer unallocated seating, this is no longer the case. In fact, it has now become standard for airlines to charge for specific seats, including full-service carriers.

easyJet was the first of the two airlines to ditch unallocated seating. The move was initially trialed on a handful of routes from London Luton and Glasgow. However, the trial was obviously successful, as nowadays the policy is the norm.

Unallocated seating, Ryanair, easyJet
Seats used to be a free-for-all upon boarding. Photo: Ryanair

Ryanair also used to offer unallocated seating. The Irish low-cost airline instead offered speedy boarding, meaning passengers could pay extra to board first and get good seats. However, Ryanair followed in the footsteps of easyJet two years later in 2014. Interestingly The Journal claimed the change would see “queuing early for seats on Ryanair flights come to an end”.

More money?

The logical conclusion is that the change would be a money-making scheme for the airlines. After all, each airline already charged for priority boarding. Now they were able to charge for this as well as the seat in which you sit.

At the time of the change, easyJet told the BBC that the change wasn’t about money. In fact, the BBC reported “it will cost it £5m in computer expenses to adapt its booking system”, and that the money collected from allocated seating would go towards this.

Unallocated seating, Ryanair, easyJet
Both Ryanair and easyJet now charge a pretty penny for their best seats. Source: Ryanair/easyJet

What about passenger comfort?

At the time of the change, easyJet’s then CEO, Carolyn McCall, said,

“It can stress people out, the boarding experience. With easyJet, they may not be used to the way we board. It can be a barrier to travelling with us. People are just not used to unreserved seating.”

With other carriers such as British Airways and Lufthansa offering seats as standard, it looks as though the move was to streamline easyJet’s offering. However, one can’t help but think how much the system must be earning the airline these days. In fact, charging for seats is so successful, that traditional carriers such as British Airways now charge most passengers for advanced seat selection.

Would you rather allocated or unallocated seating? Let us know your thoughts and why in the comments!