Emirates has started selling unoccupied Economy Class seats for between $55 and $165 per empty seat to passengers willing to pay for the “assurance of more space while travelling during pandemic times”. The Dubai-based airline also said the initiative would give couples the option of having the entire row to themselves or to offer parents with a lap infant more space and privacy.
The move has likely been designed to capitalise on the fact that airlines are currently operating flights with very light passengers loads owing to continuing lockdown restrictions and border closures.
Passengers are generally allowed to make free use of any spare seats in their cabin of travel but Emirates is now giving their customers the option to guarantee up to three empty adjoining seats – for a maximum cost of around $495 (plus taxes). Strictly subject to availability, the offer will only be allowed at check-in at the airport.
Last May, Denver-based ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines wanted to charge customers up to $89 to reserve an empty middle seat for extra peace of mind while travelling during the pandemic. The airline quickly canned the idea after lawmakers accused the carrier of “capitalizing on fear”.
“We recognize the concerns raised that we are profiting from safety and this was never our intent,” commented Frontier’s chief executive Barry Biffle at the time. “We simply wanted to provide our customers with an option for more space,” he continued.
Before the pandemic, Etihad Airways did, however, introduce a similar money-making scheme allowing passengers to reserve empty adjacent seats before travel.
It remains unclear as to whether Emirates cabin crew will now be instructed to stop passengers using a spare seat that is unoccupied and unreserved if they haven’t paid for the service.
“Emirates has introduced this new seat product on the back of customer feedback, addressing the needs of a range of customers seeking extra privacy and space while still flying in Economy Class,” the airline explained in a statement.
“Emirates continues to lead the industry with innovative products and services that address traveller needs during a dynamic time,” a spokesperson continued.
In addition, the airline is also offering generous discounts on excess luggage for passengers embarking on “essential trips”.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.