Something that makes flying in economy class more bearable is having an empty seat next to you, and Qantas will now let travellers pay to lock in that privilege rather than rely on luck.
Under the airline’s new Neighbour Free program, now being trialled on a handful of domestic routes, passengers will be able to ensure nobody is assigned the seat next to them.
This has long been a free benefit enjoyed by top-tier Platinum and Platinum One-grade frequent flyers, with the empty seat termed a ‘shadow’, but Neighbour Free puts a price on the perk.
According to the Australian Frequent Flyer forum, which first reported the trial, Qantas Neighbour Free prices will start from around $30 on the shortest domestic flights.
The longer the flight, such as between Australia’s east and west coasts, the higher the charge for that shadow: one Executive Traveller reader who has already taken advantage of the Neighbour Free offer between Perth and Brisbane cited a $60 charge.
Qantas says Neighbour Free will be offered only on selected flights – obviously those with enough seats remaining unsold – with travellers receiving an email invitation to take up the Neighbour Free option up to 48 hours before their flight.
After clicking through to their booking, they’ll select a highlighted Neighbour Free option next to their seat, provide their payment details (using a credit card – travel credit and those $50 flight vouchers are not accepted) and submit their request.
Passengers will see both their own seat and the Neighbour Free seat reservation appear on their boarding pass.
However, that empty seat can’t be used “for infant seating or to place items such as carry-on baggage, or musical instruments.”
Qantas notes that Neighbour Free “cannot be guaranteed as seats may need to be changed for operational, safety or security reasons, even after boarding the aircraft” – in which case, the fee paid to reserve that spare seat will be automatically refunded within two weeks.