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Airlines Begin Offering Passengers Upgrades To Keep Seat Beside Them Empty

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Travelers could soon benefit from more airlines offering them to upgrade their flight tickets in order to keep the seat beside them empty. For many travelers, waiting for all of the passengers to board a flight can be an anxious time, as we wait with bated breath to see whether or not a passenger will be taking that prized empty seat on either side of us ahead of a flight.

Whilst flying with an empty seat can be one of the most enjoyable and comfortable ways to start a journey, the pain of seeing a passenger walking toward it can be a soul-crushing reality – but that could soon be set to change. 

qantas flight

With a third airline now offering travelers the chance to upgrade to keep it empty, it could be a cost-effective way of having a comfortable flight without having to break the bank for a business class or extra legroom fare. Here's a look at which airlines have started this exciting travel trend, and why it could be a phenomenon that catches on across the travel sphere. 

empty seat flight

Upgrade To Keep Seat Empty – Information For Travelers

The latest airline to offer travelers the chance to pay more to keep the seat beside them free is Qantas. The Australian flag-carrying airline is piloting the idea – which it calls the “Neighbor Free Seating option” – on select domestic flights throughout Australia. Six routes in total will offer passengers the opportunity to pay more not to have a seat neighbor, with the trial set to last for the next six weeks at a minimum. The routes included are Gold Coast to Sydney, Adelaide to Sydney, Darwin to Melbourne, Darwin to Sydney, Perth to Brisbane, and Adelaide to Brisbane, which are between 1.5 to 4 hours in length. 

qantas airport

One particularly eye-catching feature of the trial is the extremely low price that passengers have to pay to secure an empty seat next to their own. For a few that will be between $30 AUD and $65 AUD (around $20 and $34 USD respectively), passengers can choose to keep the seat next to them empty – providing the flight doesn't sell out. That's an extremely low price to pay for extra comfort and space on your flight, and potentially several times cheaper than paying for costly traditional forms of upgrade. 

qantas airplane

Travelers will receive an email 48 before their flight's scheduled departure that will provide them with the opportunity to purchase the upgrade. However, this doesn't guarantee that the flight will leave with the seat still empty; should a passenger ultimately choose to book a last-minute ticket on that flight, there is a chance that the empty seat could be assigned to them – giving passengers an anxious wait as they watch the flight fill up. In the event that this happens, those who pay for the upgrade will receive a full refund. 

qantas tail of airplane

Yet whilst Qantas may be the latest airline to offer such an upgrade, they're not the only one. Across the Tasman Sea, over in New Zealand, Air New Zealand is also offering travelers the chance to purchase a spare seat. Referred to as buying a Twin Seat, travelers flying with the airline can ask for their availability upon check-in. Prices range from as little as $29 NZD (around $18 USD) for flights to Australia or other Pacific Islands, to between $75 and $99 USD for flights to the United States – once again proving to be phenomenal value. 

Air new Zealand flight

Emirates is another airline offering travelers the opportunity to purchase empty seats. Upon check-in, travelers flying Emirates can pay between AED 200 to AED 600 ($55 to $165 USD) per empty seat – with a single passenger able to purchase up to three seats. The option of doing so is perfect for travelers flying with lap infants who want a little more space for their journeys, or for those who'd prefer to stretch out and get some comfortable shut-eye on their flights. 


With three well-known airlines now offering the new type of upgrade, other airlines will surely be keeping an eye on how it goes with a view to perhaps implementing the move themselves. At a time when airlines are scrambling to make up for lost revenue caused by the pandemic, giving the passengers the opportunity to fly in comfort and pay for an otherwise empty seat is a move that will suit all parties – and could be a deciding factor when it comes to choosing which airline to fly with. 

flight cabin

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Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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Friday 9th of September 2022

So you pay the same price if you are isle or window (meaning only 1 seat next to you to free) and also if you are middle seat (meaning you have to free 2 seats from both sides)? Or you pay double if you are middle? What if seat to your right gets sold the last minute and only seat to your left remains free? Do you get full refund or half the refund?