During the pandemic, many airlines decided to block the middle seat to reduce passengers’ risk of getting infected by Covid-19. The decrease in travel demand enabled airlines to implement this policy. Now that many countries have completely relaxed their travel restrictions and travel has more or less returned to normal, airlines have decided to get rid of this policy to increase load factors. However, some airlines have made the decision to offer passengers a “neighbor-free” experience by purchasing a second seat to guarantee that no one will be sitting next to you.
Qantas is currently only offering its “Neighbor Free” program on selected domestic flights. Photo: Bidgee via Wikimedia Commons.
Australia’s national carrier, Qantas, recently started offering its “eighbor Free” program on selected flights. During this trial, passengers on these flights are sent an email 48 hours before departure, and are able to opt-in on the program. Signing up effectively means the passenger will be paying for an additional seat which will prevent the airline from assigning that seat to another passenger. On Qantas flights from Sydney (SYD) to Gold Coast (OOL), Darwin (DRW) and Adelaide (ADL), Brisbane to Perth (PER) and Adelaide (ADL), as well as Darwin (DRW) to Melbourne (MEL), passengers are able to pay between $30 and $65 to block out the adjacent seat. If this trial is indeed successful, we may see Qantas implementing this feature on other flights. This trial run does seem to incorporate a wide variety of Qantas’ domestic network, with flights ranging from 30 minutes to 4 hours in length.
However, one main flaw in Qantas’ “Neighbor Free” program is that passengers who have purchased that additional seat are still not guaranteed to be Neighbor Free, as it depends on aircraft availability. If a passenger does purchase a ticket on the flight and there are no remaining seats, Qantas will refund the passenger who has purchased the “Neighbor Free” program.
Fiji Airways operates several daily transpacific services to the United States, including to Honolulu (HNL), San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX). Photo: Bidgee via Wikimedia Commons.
Fiji Airways piloted its “My Bubble Seat” offering back in 2021 when Fiji started reopening its borders to tourists, in order to boost consumer confidence despite the pandemic. Passengers in economy class are able to pay to book the seat next to them, or even block out the entire row, on Fiji Airways flights. Blocking out the entire row of seats is sometimes known as the “My Island” service on Fiji Airways. In addition to two empty seats, passengers are also given a mattress topper, a nicer blanket and a business class pillow.
My Bubble is available for purchase 72 hours before departure, and the portal closes 4 hours before departure. In addition to purchasing the service online, passengers are also welcome to opt-in to the service at select departure airports.
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Other Airlines’ offerings
In addition to Qantas and Fiji Airways, many other airlines also offer passengers the option to purchase an adjoining seat for privacy, social distancing or simply extra space. When international travel restrictions were still relatively strict, some airlines opted for this program in hopes of boosting demand. This was effective, as many more airlines have since followed suit. These include Philippine Airlines, Sri Lankan Airlines, Etihad, Air New Zealand and Emirates.