Grrrrr….British Airways…..

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As I’ve noted before, the way British Airways manages its Club Europe (short-haul Business Class) cabin can cause issues for those of us who like to select Economy Class exit row seats at the time of booking and, although I’m aware of this issue and can therefore do my best to mitigate against its consequences, my recent experience has still left me annoyed.

First allow me to recap what the source of the issue is:

As all the seats throughout any given British Airways short-haul aircraft are usually identical the airline doesn’t have to have a set Business Class cabin – the size of the cabins can be changed depending on demand.

British Airways uses curtains to divide the Club Europe Cabin from the Economy Class cabin and these curtains are on rails that can be placed anywhere in the aircraft to divide Club Europe from Economy Class.

What this means is that you can get a situation where, at the time of booking, an Economy Class exit row seat is available for selection to oneworld elites but, when BA decides that it needs a few more seats to satisfy demand for Club Europe on that same flight, the airline expands the Club Europe cabin (by moving the movable curtain) to include those exit row seats.

Any Economy Class flyers who had reserved a seat in the exit row now get booted to elsewhere on the aircraft.

My Recent Experience

On this particular short-haul flight the exit row wasn’t available to be reserved at the time I booked my flight but, because I absolutely had to fly on this particular day and because no other airline offered an alternative, I was left with no choice but to reserve seat 15C in the Economy Class cabin.

a screenshot of a test

In this aircraft (an A320) the exit row seats in rows 11 and 12 offer considerably more legroom than the regular Economy Class seats elsewhere in the cabin so, as my departure date approaches, I’ve been keeping a close watch on what BA is doing with the seat map.

A couple of days ago I logged in to my BA account to check to see if the exit row had been opened up and, sure enough, row 12 was available to be reserved – fantastic!

a screenshot of a computer game

I immediately reassigned myself to seat 12D in the knowledge that it’s one of the most spacious seats on the aircraft.

a screenshot of a computer

Fortunately I’m wise to the way BA and its IT works so I didn’t fully trust that my seat selection would stick…which is why I rechecked my reservation later the same evening.

A few hours after I had selected the exit row seat the BA app was showing me in seat 26D (towards the back of the aircraft)…..

a screenshot of a phone

…but, when I opened up the seat map, I could see that all the seats in row 12 were still available:

a screenshot of a computer


I’d had no alert or email from BA to let me know that I’d been kicked out of my exit row seat so, had I not been only too aware of how abysmally BA sometimes manages its seat maps, I could have quite easily turned up at the airport before I found out that I was seated a few feet from the back of the aircraft.

What makes this worse is that I don’t understand why I was relegated to row 26 where there were numerous other aisle seats available for selection much closer to the front of the aircraft and when row 12 was still, apparently, available.

At this point I decided to reselect seat 12D and to keep a close eye on what BA would do from here.

All was fine until part-way through yesterday when I noticed that I had been relegated to the back of the aircraft once again.

This time the exit rows were now unavailable for selection but I was back in seat 26D…

a screenshot of a cell phone

…despite the fact that 15C (and may other aisle seats) were still open.

So far that has been the end of my game of musical chairs with BA and, for the time being, I’ve moved myself to seat 18C as there’s no one else currently in the seats next to me….

a screenshot of a cell phone

….but I’m going to carry on keeping a close eye on the exit rows to see what happens between now and when check-in opens.

Bottom Line

There are two things that really irritate me here.

Firstly, it’s appalling that BA is prepared to kick a passenger out of his/her reserved seat without letting them know.

Secondly, it’s more than a little annoying that BA’s seating algorithm is so terrible that it relegates passengers to a seat towards the back of an aircraft even when there are numerous better seats still open for selection.

The moral of the story here is that you simply cannot trust BA to let you know when your seat assignments have changed and you can’t trust that the airline won’t change you seat assignment (sometimes for no apparent reason) just hours after you’ve made your selection.

If you have selected seats with BA make sure you keep checking them on a frequent basis right up to check-in as you never know when they may change.


  1. BA has changed our seats on us so many times that we now actively book other airlines. As a top tier OneWorld member this is horrid behavior. In the most recent example the phone agent told us to be grateful our new seat were at least together (while never apologizing for the involuntary move). I just can’t see why I should fly them anymore if this is how they treat elite travelers.

  2. And you’re an elite with BA. What throws me about this is that they have dozens of business class passengers on a narrow body flight. I suppose that the passengers are connecting from long haul flights, since BA regional business is certainly no prize that people would intentionally choose.

    • Yes, I was going to mention that I can’t believe that they treat their Gold members like this when I realised that they shouldn’t be treating anyone like this – it’s just very poor customer service.

      Short-haul intra-Europe business class is mostly a joke nowadays and I’m not entirely sure why a lot of people bother with it (more room in the Economy class exit rows if your airline doesn’t bump you out!) – it just makes me appreciate US domestic First all that more.

      I understand that short-haul travel will always be predominantly on narrow-body aircraft but do the short-haul premium cabins really need to be that cramped?

    • I’ve started booking away from BA (and on to easyJet) where it makes sense to do so just because of this.

      On BA’s A321 routes you can still book an exit row that’s so far back in the aircraft that Club Europe will never engulf it, but easyJet will be my airline of choice (price allowing) for the busier short-haul routes where the exit row cannot be guaranteed on BA.

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