Having an empty seat next to you on a plane is like the ultimate of economy class luxuries. When the flight attendants close the door and there’s no one next to you, you feel like you’ve won the airline lottery. Am I right, or what?
There was a short time during the early months of the pandemic that, in the name of social distancing, middle seats were blocked on many airlines. As this process began to be phased out in late 2020 and early 2021, passengers on some airlines were offered the opportunity to purchase the middle seats next to them. They were called “comfort seats” (or something similar to that; it varied from airline to airline) and the prices were, for a short period of time, significantly less than the cost of buying two seats.
Not surprisingly, as more people began flying again, that option went away very quickly. However there are some airlines (Note: none based in the U.S.; unless you’re a person of size flying on some specific airlines, if you want 2 seats you will pay full price for two seats) that still allow their passengers to purchase the seat next to them at a discounted rate, regardless if their goal is social distancing or just good ol’ elbow room:
Air New Zealand allows you to buy what they call “Twin Seats” at check-in. “One seat, twice the space”
Twin Seats are not available on every flight, but it’s on many of them. Prices vary, but to give an idea, here are some prices from the United States:
- $60 from Honolulu to Auckland (as of May, 2023: $120)
- $75 from Los Angeles & San Francisco to Auckland ($120)
- $75 from Los Angeles to Rarotonga ($42 – hey, the price went down!)
- $99 from Houston, Chicago & NYC to Auckland (Houston & Chicago: $150, NYC $180)
But before you think you may be able to sleep better on those flights, Air New Zealand does clarify that, “Not all armrests onboard our aircraft fully retract and therefore Twin Seat is not intended for, and may not allow you to sit across or lay across multiple seats.”
In response to passenger feedback of wanting more personal space and privacy onboard, Emirates Airlines has allowed Emirates Economy Class passengers the option to buy empty adjoining seats since March, 2021.
You can buy up to three adjoining seats, but they can only be bought at the airport check-in counter before departure. When the program was first introduced, the cost ranged from $55 to $165 per empty seat (plus applicable taxes).
Etihad offers what they call “Economy Neighbour-Free” as one of its seating options, alongside Economy Space and Economy Standard. The focus of the extra room is based on “health and wellness.”
Available 72 to four hours before flight time, the available options can be accessed by entering the booking reference number and name on the seat selection page. You can then select up to three neighboring seats (and they’ll plant a mangrove for you, to offset your carbon footprint, if you book a seat in Economy Space that has extra legroom).
Prices are not mentioned on Etihad’s website.
Fiji Airways introduced what they call “My Bubble Seat” in December 2021, when the country’s borders reopened. My Bubble Seat is advertised as a way to have social distancing, extra comfort, and more personal space in their Economy cabin. The option is available to purchase between 72 to four hours before scheduled departure time.
The airline also allows you to purchase 2 seats in addition to their own. It’s called “My Island Row” and is offered based on availability upon check-in. With “My Island,” you have a whole row on long-haul economy flights. Added amenities such as a mattress topper, business class-sized pillow, extra blanket, and a seat belt extender are available, which allow you to lay down across the row.
Philippines Airlines offers what they call their “Choice Seat Neighbor-Free” option. “Fly in maximum comfort for your well-being with empty neighboring seats in Economy.” They suggest you’ll be able to enjoy extra comfort, more privacy and added peace of mind.
According to their website, “For as low as USD30, you can enjoy more space in economy class by blocking the seats beside you to keep them vacant so you can feel extra safe and have more room to relax.
“Choice Seats Neighbor-Free gives you a more comfortable Economy Class experience by having the entire row to yourself all throughout the flight.”
Qantas has just started playing with the concept of what they call a “Neighbour Free Seating option.” It’s being piloted across six domestic routes over the course of the next six weeks. It will feature empty seats available to buy for the economy passengers seated next to them.
As of this writing, the option is by invitation only. Said invitation only comes 48 hours ahead of the time of departure (and, of course, only if there are empty seats on the flight). The seat isn’t guaranteed until boarding has ended, but if someone winds up sitting in the purchased seat, the passenger is eligible for a full and immediate refund of what they paid for their Neighbour Free Seating.
Sri Lankan Airlines advertises “Neighbour Free Seats,” for passengers’ health and safety. “Fly in comfort with more space, at the most reasonable fares.”
If you have booked an Economy class seat and your flight is within 48 hours and 4 hours of departure, you may reserve a Neighbour Free Seat online, subject to the following conditions.
- Your flight must be operated by SriLankan Airlines and you must have a ticket number starting with 603
- The Neighbour Free Seat facility is not available for passengers who have made special service requests such as Wheelchair, Stretcher, Infant seats and Bassinet
- This facility is also not available for deportees
- This service may not be available on certain flights due to operational reasons
U.S. flights tend to be jam packed. But if they weren’t, I would jump at the chance to spend a few dollars to ensure the seat next to me stayed empty.
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