British Airways’ Seating Policy Explained

Our guide to selecting a seat on British Airways operated flights and when you can select a seat for free or for a charge.

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BA World Traveller Cabin, Boeing 777-300 aircraft (Image Credit: British Airways)

If there’s one subject that can cause more angst before a flight than anything else, it’s seating.

Once upon a time, seat selection was largely confined expressing a preference for a window or an aisle seat. If you were lucky at the check-in desk you might score an exit row.

With the proliferation of online seat maps and third party reviews, it’s now fruitful ground for airlines to harvest revenue. Some passengers can live in blissful ignorance about where they will be seated. Others can’t bear it.

This is an attempt to explain BA’s seating policy. The whole subject is worthy of a PhD thesis. It is based on BA’s own published seating policy, as well as personal experience, anecdote, and a degree of suppoistion.

BA’s seat selection policy in context

It’s complicated to explain. This because the policy is a patchwork that has been progressively modified for more than ten years according to changing, and often conflicting, priorities:

a) To encourage the use of online check-in before getting to the airport
b) To reward/incentivise Silver & Gold members of the BA Executive Club
c) To raise revenue from seat selecton fees
d) To create a new tier of “basic” economy fares with relatively limited options

Why do airlines charge for seating?

Put simply, extra revenue.

It is the “sweet spot” of ancillary revenues for airlines. Bar the initial IT expense, it costs nothing for airlines to provide. All those extra fees go straight to the bottom line.

BA’s policy in very simple terms..

Silver and Gold Executive Club card holders can choose a seat for free at the time of booking. However, some seats are restricted to Gold card holders until 72 hours before departure or when online check-in opens 24 hours before departure.

Bronze Executive Club card holders can choose a seat for free 7 days before departure.

Blue Executive Club card holders and non-members can choose a seat for free when online check-in opens if you have not already paid for a seat. The main exceptions are “basic” economy fares where, unless you are prepared to pay for a seat, it will be allocated for you.

Oneworld Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald frequent flyers also benefit from the above privileges.

On long-haul flights prices start from around £20 one way in World Traveller. Here is an example seat map for BA flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK to show indicative pricing:

Example pricing in World Traveller - London Heathrow - New York JFK
Example pricing in World Traveller – London Heathrow – New York JFK

You can check/change your seat at any time using the Manage My booking tool on ba.com. Unlike many North American airlines BA does not offer previews of seat maps before selecting flights. However, if you are required to pay for a seat you should be able to see the seat map before completing your booking.

There are a also lot of nuances according to ticket type and cabin:

First Class

All passengers travelling in First Class can reserve a seat for free at the time of booking.

However, seats 1A and 1K are blocked for Gold cardholders until 72 hours before departure.

Club World

One thing unique to BA is that it does charge (from more than £60 one way) for seat assignments in its Club World long-haul business class cabin.

Whilst this has long been seen as egregious gouging, BA has got away with this for nearly ten years, so it is unlikely to change soon.

Club Europe / EuroTraveller

BA uses convertible seating in its short-haul business class Club Europe to allow it to match the size of the cabin to demand.

The exact number of rows in Club Europe is determined 72 hours before departure, so the seat maps for both Club Europe and EuroTraveller will change at this time.

Corporate Agreements

If your employer has a corporate agreement with BA it is possible that when booking through your corporate travel agent you may benefit from enhanced seating privileges such as free seat selection at booking regardless of frequent flyer status.

Flexible Fares

Flexible fares offer enhanced seat selection privileges.

Fully flexible fares which carry names such as “Flexible Economy” allow free seat selection at the time of booking. Semi-flexible fares on short-haul routes which carry names such as “Economy Plus” allow free seat selection 48 hours before departure.

“Basic” Fares

“Basic Economy” short-haul and long-haul fares have restricted seat selection privileges.

Unless you choose to pay for a seat, this will be selected for you by the airline. This does not apply to Bronze, Silver and Gold card holders.

Exit Row Seats

Gold card holders can select exit row seats at the time of booking.

These seats are also available for purchase in advance at the time of booking. Silver and Bronze card holders can only select these seats for free when online check-in opens.

Families

If you are travelling with an infant (under 2 years), you should be able to choose a seat for free at the time of booking.

Otherwise, if you haven’t already reserved a seat in advance, BA should endeavour to seat your family together at around 72 hours before departure. The only assurance BA provides is that children under 12 years will be seated next to an adult in the booking. There is detailed guidance for families on ba.com

Bassinet Seats

Bassinet seats are blocked for families.

These should become available to select at around 72 hours before departure. When online check-in opens these seats are available for all to select.

Passengers with disabilities / medical conditions

Passengers with specific seating requirements because of a disability can reserve a seat for free in advance.

It is strongly recommended that any arrangements for assistance such as transport to and from the aircraft gate are made well in advance. Full details on assistance for passengers with disabilities is on ba.com

If you have a medical condition such as a leg in a half or full plaster cast you will need to check with BA in advance as its ability to accommodate passengers varies by cabin. In some cabins you may be required to purchase an extra seat to elevate your leg after take-off as the airline will not allow injured legs in the aisle.

From experience, passengers with a leg in a plaster cast may be upgraded on board the aircraft. However, this is solely within the discretion of the senior crew member and may happen before take-off or later in the flight after the first meal service.

Extra Seats

Although not widely publicised you can purchase an extra seat for comfort.

You need to do this by phone. The cost will be your fare (before taxes), subject to a minimum charge of £40 on short-haul and £300 on long-haul.

Passngers travelling on the same flight under different bookings

For Gold card holders BA offers a facility known as “Total Complete Party”.

This allows a Gold card holder to link their booking to a separate booking by another passenger in the same cabin so that all passengers can benefit from free seat selection. You have to call BA to do this.

Seat Blocking

There is no official published policy on seat-blocking.

However, anecdotally it does happen. Some seats on short-haul aircraft such as Row 1 in Club Europe and possibly some front row seats in EuroTraveller may be blocked for selection by Gold cardholders. This does not necessarily mean they won’t be occupied in flight.

Should I pay for a seat?

This is obviously subjective.

For short-haul, it probably isn’t worth it. For long-haul, it probably is, for the benefit of certainty and not having to think about it again.

One key thing to bear in mind is that the number of passengers eligible to choose a seat for free in advance of check-in will vary widely by route.

A “trunk” route like London Heathrow – New York JFK will have a high proportion of Silver and Gold Executive Club card holders (and American Airlines equivalents) eligible for a free seat assignment, particularly in Club World. Also, not all passengers check-in online at the same time. Connecting passengers will be able to select seats for all flights in their booking, many hours before passengers travelling direct.

Selecting a seat during online check-in

If you want to change your seat when checking in online, be very careful to avoid a “fat finger” mistake and complete the check-in process without changing your seat – it’s easier to do it on a computer rather than your smartphone. Once you have retrieved your boarding pass you cannot change your seat online.

BA changing your seat

BA can and will change your seat before departure.

The most likely reason is a change of aircraft or a known issue with your seat that cannot be fixed before departure.

From experience, BA will proactively notify you by e-mail of a seat change more than 48 hours before departure. If your seat is changed less than 48 hours before departure by the airport, you won’t be proactively notified. However, the new seat will show in the BA app on your smartphone.

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