Why has easyJet decided to discontinue unassigned seats?

Low-cost carriers are driven to monetize nearly every service they can. Assigned seating was one of the very few exceptions to this rule, as it was felt that assigning seats would slow passengers’ boarding time. This could jeopardize the often very tight turnaround time – the period between an aircraft’s arrival and departure. This is crucial for the business model of low-cost airlines, as they have to meet the tightest schedule possible.

easyJet was no exception, with a policy of free boarding for all on its flights. That was, until November 2012, when he decided to change all that. His reasoning was that customers found the fight for a seat stressful, with long queues forming at the gates. In the summer of 2012, easyJet undertook 6,000 trials on its flights and found that assigned seats did not slow down the boarding process, turnaround time or the journey itself.

Seating was not the norm until about 10 years ago. Photo: easyJet

EasyJet began allocating seats in November 2012

EasyJet’s testing found that 70% of passengers preferred seats assigned to the old boarding mode. He also added some tips for his future pricing policy. On short-haul routes, window seat 6a was most popular, while on longer international routes, seat 1a was most preferred due to more legroom. The least desirable seats, as expected, were those found in the middle and near the rear of the planes. Passengers also considered 16b on short-haul and 19b on long-haul to be the worst places.

These findings convinced Carolyn McCall, then CEO of the airline, to opt for the new policy. Seat allocation across easyJet’s network began from November 2012. Front row seats and over wing berths were sold for £12. Seats in the four rows behind the front row cost £8. Passengers wishing to reserve a seat anywhere else on the plane had to pay £3. Travelers who opted for free allocation obtained their seats at random.


The airline set a trend for the wider low-cost industry. Photo: easyJet

Assigned seats, to be beneficial to easyJet, needed to make slightly more money than the unassigned alternative. Prior to November 2012, passengers paid around £10.50 to board the plane first, but revenue from this process was limited to 30 seats per flight. Therefore, his potential had a cap of around £315 per start. With assigned seats, easyJet had the potential to sell many more upgrades, at varying prices.

A success story that has become the industry standard

easyJet has successfully implemented the assigned seats as planned. This did not disrupt the onboarding process, turnaround time, and most importantly, the carrier’s strong on-time performance. In fact, it was a success story and a pioneering experience for the industry. Unsurprisingly, easyJet’s decision was imitated by its competitors. In February 2014, Ryanair introduced a similar system. Wizz Air followed the trend in May 2015.

Ryanair, limited network, new routes
Other airlines soon followed suit. Photo: Getty Images

Today, assigned seating is a well-established standard among low-cost carriers. easyJet’s current assigned seating system allows passengers to purchase a seat in the front row from £12.99 to £39.99. Front and wing seats can be reserved between £7.99 and £34.99. Any other seat can be reserved from £0.99 to £8.99. The exact amount depends on the flight and the route. Ryanair offers a seat reservation service from €3 or £3 to €28 or £28. On Wizz Air flights, passengers can book seats ranging from £3.55 or €4 to £28.43 or €32.

Are you satisfied with the assigned seating systems used by low-cost airlines? How much are you willing to pay for a specific seat on an airplane? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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