Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Update on bmibaby – deliberately splitting up families and seating children out of reach?

bmibaby logo

I posted ten days ago about my experience of bmibaby’s strange approach of splitting up families and allocating children seats separate from their accompanying adults.

As a family, we had the experience on the way across from Belfast International to Birmingham of two adults being automatically allocated (through online check-in) seats D and E seats in one row, while Littl’un was given the C seat across the aisle in the row behind.

Checking in for the way home, we experienced another variation. Cheryl got seat 15C, Littl’un was placed over the aisle in 15D and I was condemned to the back corner 24F. Another family with three children and two parents was spread across three different rows scattered throughout the aircraft.

It seemed like a new innovation, perhaps a deliberate one to encourage families to pay out for the guaranteed seating option. The Civil Aviation Authority issue guidelines, and common sense would ask:

Would it be safe for a four year old to sit in the row behind her parents, or across the aisle?

bmibaby responded. And here’s what they have to say.

If passengers want to guarantee they sit together then they have the option to reserve their seats online prior to departure for a small fee. Alternatively a seat will always be allocated for them at check in free of charge. We have found that our customers value the benefit of being allocated a seat as this avoids any mad dash for a seat at the departure gate.

If a high percentage of passengers choose to pre allocate their seats in advance of travel, this means that the remaining seats will be limited. However our staff at check in and our cabin crew will always try and accommodate passenger’s seating requirements – as highlighted in your blog post.

We will ensure your comments are raised with the relevant management team.

I’m not sure how “a seat will always be allocated for them at check in free of charge” sits alongside the £5/€5 non refundable airport check in charge for online passengers accessing a physical check in desk at the airport.

Getting back to the fundamental issue, I suggested that it surely would not be safe if passengers actually obeyed their auto-allocated seats and allowed four year old children to be seated across the aisle or in the row in front of the adult accompanying them. Which of course is the kind of allocation that bmibaby’s check-in computer is making regularly.

Should someone choose not to pre book their seats together for a small fee, our technical team have advised me that the system will automatically try and sit party members together.

They also advised that they are currently working on the auto allocation functionality in order to resolve this matter and give preference to an adult / child combination.

So expect to see less of this kind of thing in the future! Do leave a comment on the blog if your young family is split up … or if bmibaby manages to keep them all together. And a big thank you to bmibaby for listening and replying.


Wondering said...

Well, they should have time to sort it, before we go flying again...

Johnny said...

I wonder who becomes the legal guardian of the children at the stage of separation?

And which Mother would ever agree to "putting [Her] own lifejacket of first before helping others" let alone getting out of a crash-landed plane and rest assured that their precious 4 year old daughter is making her own way off the plane safely!?!?


Thanks Alan,

Drumlough said...

There was a similar situation on flights from Belfast to Prague and return on the weekend of 22-24 Jan. People seemed to be split up all over the place, especially on the return leg when the plane was only about 50% full and there were actually free rows. On easyJet I have never failed to sit with my family and it is a far faster way to board a plane for a short haul trip. Just a pity that easyJet dropped the Belfast-Prague route.

Anonymous said...

I checked in online 3 days before our flight to Palma and their seat allocation system put the two adults together on 19E & 19F with my 8 and 10yr old on 20A and 20C. IF there is an algorithm involved the author should be shot if it isn't intentionally trying to separate children!

Lynda said...

Bmibaby have done exactly this to me, split me up from my three boys aged 10, 6 and 3. I am a row in front and the boys are split between the aisle.

This is clearly a deliberate tactic to make you pay £10 per passenger extra (you have to pay again to come back, of course) and is right up there with Ryanair's fee for card booking unless you use a virtually unobtainable Electron card.

I am flying later this week so will print out your blog post and the CAA recommendations to show the staff.

Alan in Belfast said...

Lynda - hope the flights go smoothly!

Jo Beswick said...

Bmibaby clearly still haven't got this sorted. I have just checked in online for a return flight next Wednesday and have been allocated a seat on a separate row from my 2 year old daughter, at the opposite side of the plane (both window seats!). (The outward flight is fine and we do have seats together for that.) I tried to click on the 'back' button when I realised this had happened, but it appears we are stuck with the seats. There are plenty of seats available - I checked via the select and pay for your seats route, so Bmibaby's comment that the system would automatically sit party members together seems incorrect. I have already paid over £130 for the flights and as a single mum try to save the pennies wherever I can. I am now faced with paying to get an appropriate seat allocation or using the ridiculously expensive customer services phone line. So upset and disappointed.

Alan in Belfast said...

Jo - thanks for the comment. I've posed the question to bmibaby whether they did make any system changes as previously indicated.

By not placing young children automatically beside accompanying adults, bmibaby are stressing parents and perhaps inducing them to either ring the helpdesk (which profits bmibaby) or change their bookings to book specific seats (which profits bmibabby) ... both of which profit bmibaby ... but profit them by not following CAA guidance to place young families together.

From a consumer point of view, it feels like it's either cock-up or conspiracy - a booking website mistake, or deliberate exploitation of young families.

Jo Beswick said...

Thanks for your support, Alan. I agree with your comments. Customer service doesn't really seem to be a priority. :-(

Jo Beswick said...

A quick update. I just managed to talk to bmibaby on the less expensive number - 0845 8101100. The first guy I spoke to was really unhelpful and just kept repeating that to guarantee seats together I would have to pay - whether he did it or I did it online. I was quite shocked at this - especially since I'd explained my daughter was 2! He did say he would remove the seat allocations and I could try again to see if we got seats together! (Am confused that he is able to remove seat allocations but not assign them!) I did a quick check after the call and the seats were just the same. I rang back and spoke to a lovely lady who said to leave things as they are, print off boarding passes and then speak to the staff at the airport/on the plane, who would sort it out. Have got my fingers crossed!

Jo Beswick said...

I hope this will be my final update! After my phone calls this morning, I received a further booking confirmation email from bmibaby, which had the offending seats removed. I have now been able to check-in online again and this time we have been allocated seats together. Hurrah! Hope my tale helps someone else with a similar problem.

Anonymous said...

Hi this is still happening my daughter also just 2 has been allocated seats away from me I refuse to give them any more money to use common sense! My child will sit on my lap. Quite pathetic really!

Anonymous said...

mother travelling with 10 year old son - online check in has assigned us 22F & 23 A - disgraceful
bmi i would like your comment q2c3av
disgusted like alot of other frequent travellers

ACKerr said...

Just checked in for BMI Baby flights from Cardiff to Belfast return, on the outward flight my 4 year old and I are across the aisle and on the return journey we are in 15F and 16A - completely unacceptable - two years on and this despicable company is still up to the same old tricks.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that parents instruct their kids to be a total pain the ass if this happens. Cry, need a drink, need the toilet, fiddle with the food trays, share loud and hilarious jokes with their siblings.... wonder how long it would be until they got their system sorted out?

Anonymous said...

We have just experienced similar on online booking system, we have a 3 & 7 year old and are all split up! After reading this I can only hope this airline fails in business, we will never fly with them again and will spread the word to friends and family of what to expect when booking