Travel | September 7, 2022 4:37 pm

This Airline Will Now Let You Buy Out the Empty Seat Next to You (for $20!)

"No seatmate, no problem." — Qantas, probably

Empty seat in a plane at dusk
Aleksei Zaitcev/Unsplash

I can confidently say that there are few things I believe to be worse than sitting next to a stranger with zero plane etiquette on a long-haul flight. Ever had your seatmate drop their retainer in your lap on a flight? Well, I have. And frankly it’s probably one of the lesser offenses I’ve had committed against me by a seatmate in-flight during my time here on Earth.

Fortunately, it would seem some airlines are starting to bring tangible solutions to the table where unsavory seatmates are involved — and not a day too soon.

Per a new report from Travel + Leisure, not only will Qantas begin alerting passengers to empty seats in their row ahead of their flight, they will also now allow them to purchase them(!). The new “Neighbour Free Seating option” is being piloted across six domestic routes over the course of the next six weeks, and it will feature empty seats available to buy for the economy passengers seated next to them.

That said, as it stands now, the option is by invitation only, and said invitation only comes 48 hours ahead of the time of departure — and, obviously, only if there are empty seats on the flight. The seats will go for $30 AUD and $65 AUD — or $20.28 and $33.80, respectively. And while the seat isn’t guaranteed until boarding has ended, if someone winds up sitting in the purchased seat, the passenger is eligible for a full and immediate refund.

Assuming the pilot is a success (I can’t think of one good reason why it wouldn’t be), Qantas has already expressed their intent to introduce the option on more domestic flights starting later this year. As far as it being available on international flights? That remains to be seen.

Of course, Qantas isn’t the first to take this revolutionary step into the future. As Alison Fox points out, Etihad allows passengers to request up to three empty neighboring seats up to 72 hours before departure, and Emirates, too, offers the opportunity to purchase an empty seat for as little as $55. And hopefully more airlines will soon follow suit (cough, United), because I wouldn’t hesitate to spend an extra $20 — for even a second — to ensure that I never have a stranger’s retainer in my lap for any period of time, for the rest of my life.