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Qantas' empty-seat deal slammed: 'No real value'

·News Reporter
·4-min read
Inside Qantas aeroplane, entertainment screen and male passenger with headphones on
Qantas is giving customers a new option to improve comfort on select domestic flights. (Source: Getty Images)

Qantas is now offering passengers on its domestic routes the option to block the seat next to them so it can be left empty, but a consumer expert says this is probably a deal you just may want to pass up.

The Australian carrier, which recently announced it was trialing a “Neighbour Free” program that allowed passengers to block the seats next to them for a fee, was supposed to allow “more space to relax in economy”.

“Availability is limited, so make sure you reserve your seat early,” Qantas says on its website.

According to a Qantas spokesperson, the trial is being conducted in order for the airline to gauge customer reaction and interest in a new idea, which is something they tend to do from time to time.

"As part of a new trial, Qantas customers on some domestic flights will be offered the option to keep the seat next to them free, giving them some extra space throughout their flight," a spokesperson told Yahoo Finance Australia.

About the Neighbour Free program

The new Neighbour Free seating option is being trialed across six domestic routes over the next six weeks.

Customers booked on flights with spare capacity will be sent an email invitation to take up the offer around 48 hours before their flight. This option will not be available at the point of booking flights.

The offer will also only be available for economy and will cost between $30 and $65, the Qantas spokesperson said.

The new product will be available on flights - space allowing - on the following routes:

• Gold Coast - Sydney

• Adelaide - Sydney

• Darwin - Melbourne

• Darwin - Sydney

• Perth - Brisbane

• Adelaide - Brisbane

Routes for the trial range from 90 minutes to four hours, the spokesperson added, so Qantas could get a better understanding of customer preferences before it considered a broader roll-out of the offer on domestic routes later in the year.

Male passenger looks at Uluru through window of Qantas aeroplane
Pricing for the airline's Neighbour Free option begins at $30. (Source: Getty Images)

The catch

There is however a caveat to this. Seats are not guaranteed until departure.

“Neighbour Free cannot be guaranteed as seats may be changed for operational, safety and security reasons even after boarding the aircraft,” the carrier said.

Qantas also added on its website that the reserved seat could not be used for infant seating, or to place items such as carry-on baggage or musical instruments.

The reservation can be secured online by adding the Neighbour Free option next to the Standard Seat, if the passenger is eligible.

Once payment is made and the request is submitted, the passenger will receive an email confirming the reservation, which will in turn be printed on the boarding pass at the airport.

The airline adds that once a passenger receives the email confirmation reserving the Neighbour Free seat, they will be unable to cancel or make changes to their booking.

'It may seem like great value but...'

While the deal may appear to be a good offer, consumer expert and professor of marketing and consumer behaviour Gary Mortimer said it was really just a means for Qantas to subsidise empty seats.

“It may seem like great value but, ultimately, all it is is an airline that’s looking to compensate for an empty seat,” Mortimer told Yahoo Finance.

“Before consumers get excited, they need to be aware that there is no real value in this,” he added, explaining that there were bound to be some empty seats on the plane anyway.

He explained that airlines seated passengers in a balanced sequence throughout the fuselage, so there would potentially be a middle or aisle seat that would be empty.

“My advice is to just book a seat and keep your fingers crossed that the seat next to you will be empty,” Mortimer said.

Qantas however, is not the only airline offering neighbour-free seats. UAE’s Etihad began offering this in 2017, while Emirates also made this available last year.

Air New Zealand also started this program in 2018.

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