China’s major carriers all implement paid seat selection services
China Southern Airlines joined the three other major Chinese carriers in charging a premium for seat selection of designated economy class seats.
China Southern Airlines joined the three other major Chinese carriers – Hainan Airlines, Air China and China Eastern Airlines - in charging a premium for seat selection of designated economy class seats.
Air China and Hainan Airlines meet resistance
Hainan Airlines was the first major Chinese carrier to launch a seat selection surcharge when it launched a trial run of the fee in May 2013 on its international services from Beijing to Chicago, Seattle, Boston, Toronto, St Petersburg, Berlin and Moscow. The option allowed coach class passengers to select front row and emergency exit seats for RMB500.
Air China launched its paid seat selection option in May 2014 on six of its long-haul routes of more than 8,000 km. Passengers who select seats near the emergency exits with 20% more legroom have to pay a surcharge of RMB600.
Prior to the surcharge implementation, Air China charged RMB100 for seat selection. After a trial run, it introduced a RMB50 fee for selecting seats in rows 11-12 and RMB100 for selecting seats in rows 2-10.
However, Air China’s surcharges were halted by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) after only 10 days, and Hainan Airlines also stopped the service. A source said this was the result of pressure from the public and CAAC. Civil aviation law expert Qihuai Zhang said that Air China and Hainan Airlines were clearly different from low-cost carriers (LCC) and they didn’t offer any added service or provide lower cost tickets along with slapping on the surcharge. The surcharge in fact deprived passengers a fair opportunity to select their seats in economy class.
After a three-month suspension, the surcharge resumed under a different branding, and Air China’s countered criticisms with the rationale that European and US carriers have long had such services.
China Eastern Airlines joins the seat-selection fee league
On January 28 this year, China Eastern Airlines also launched its preferential seat selection service on its long-haul services to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto and Paris. Passengers use the service to select seats in the first row and near emergency exits in coach class for RMB500.
In early May, China Southern Airlines jumped on the bandwagon and introduced paid seat selection service on 12 international long-haul flights from Guangzhou to Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris and Dubai, offering only first row coach class seats for selection for RMB600.
An industry observer said that airlines are using the surcharges to reduce loss, highlighting a trend towards using surcharges to supplement incomes.
Seat selection fee highly unpopular
US carriers like American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines already announced paid seat selection policies back in the summer of 2011. Besides US carriers, Lufthansa and Air France have also launched paid seat selection for long-haul services and charge RMB588 for first row and emergency exit coach class seats.
In a 2014 Reuters survey, 50% of respondents said they hated this service and some US passengers have filed complaints against airlines for adding seat selection fees just to be seated with friends or relatives.
Chinese netizens have already commented that China Southern’s seat selection fee is “too expensive” and one commented that the four major carriers shouldn’t be making money with added fees as they aren’t LCCs.(Translation by David)