Sick of battling for the armrest with a stranger? Australian airline Qantas now allows travelers to pay a fee to reserve the seat beside them on select international flights, including seven to the United States.
Famous for their soap opera Neighbours, Australians aren’t as fond of neighboring airplane passengers. Aussie flag carrier Qantas introduced “Neighbour Free” seating on most domestic flights earlier this year, allowing passengers in economy cabins to pay to block off the seat beside them.
It’s been a success domestically, so now the airline is trialing the offer on international flights, giving travelers willing to pay a little more room on those marathon journeys to the Antipodes.
“We’ve had a really positive reaction from customers who’ve opted to travel Neighbor Free on our domestic network, and customers have told us they want the option on our international flights too,” said Catriona Larritt, Qantas’ chief customer and digital officer.
“The data shows it’s most popular with customers on our longer flights between the east and west coasts [of Australia], so rolling it out to our international flights makes a lot of sense,” she added.
From last week, Qantas has allowed travelers to book adjacent seats in economy cabins on 19 international routes, provided the flight isn’t fully booked.
The airline will email passengers on flights with spare capacity 48 hours before takeoff, offering to reserve a seat beside them for a fee.
On trans-Tasman flights (between Australia and New Zealand), neighbour-free seating starts at A$45 ($28.50) each way. Adjacent seats can be booked for A$100 ($63) each way on flights between Australia and Singapore and for A$225 ($142.50) each direction on flights between Oz and the U.S. On flights within Australia, you’ll pay A$30 ($19) per leg.
Neighboring seats can be reserved up until one hour before departure on domestic flights and two hours before departure on international journeys. Your boarding pass will display both seats.
However, the additional seat isn’t guaranteed until the plane actually takes off, even during boarding. Qantas reserves the right to sell the seat or seat a passenger in it for “operational, safety or security reasons.” But if that happens, you’ll be refunded the full fee.
Passengers traveling as a group on the same reservation, those traveling with infants, and unaccompanied minors aren’t eligible for neighbor-free seating. Additionally, those who have already purchased additional products, including seats with extra legroom, or have requested an upgrade can’t request neighbor-free seating.
Initially, the service will be offered on 19 trial routes before being expanded to more international routes in the future.
“International bookings can be a little more complex, which is why we’re starting with select routes and bookings without additional products to test our processes before expanding the program in the coming months,” said Larritt.
The initial 19 international routes are:
- Brisbane (BNE) – Auckland (AKL)
- Brisbane – Christchurch (CHC)
- Brisbane – Los Angeles (LAX)
- Brisbane – Singapore (SIN)
- Brisbane – Wellington (WLG) (starting October 29th, 2023)
- Melbourne (MEL) – Auckland
- Melbourne – Christchurch
- Melbourne – Dallas (DFW)
- Melbourne – Los Angeles
- Melbourne – Singapore
- Melbourne – Wellington
- Perth (PER) – Singapore
- Sydney (SYD) – Auckland
- Sydney – Christchurch
- Sydney – Dallas
- Sydney – Honolulu (HNL)
- Sydney – Los Angeles
- Sydney – San Francisco (SFO)
- Sydney – Wellington
“Whether they’re hopping across the Tasman or taking a longer flight to the United States, we think customers will value being able to secure some extra space,” Larritt said.
Qantas isn’t the first airline to allow passengers to book adjacent seats for extra room. In 2017, the UAE’s Etihad Airways introduced a similar service, “Neighbour Free Seats,” allowing passengers to bid on up to three additional seats adjacent to their seat.
Qantas’ own neighbor, Air New Zealand, offered a “Neighbor Free Guarantee” on its Works Deluxe fares (comparable to business class) on narrowbody services to Australia and the Pacific Island. However, it recently announced that it will discontinue Works Deluxe fares.
The additional space became even more popular after the coronavirus pandemic, with travelers eager to guard their personal space and avoid infection. Fiji Airways allows passengers to book a “bubble,” a maximum of two additional seats in their row, on long-haul flights. Since 2021, Qatar Airways has permitted customers to reserve up to three additional seats from the check-in counter for fees between $55 to $165.