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EasyJet plans to start assigning seats on its flights

Budget airline passengers could soon be spared the ordeal of a seating free-for-all when they board their flights.

EasyJet plans to start assigning seats on its flights

Budget airline passengers could soon be spared the ordeal of a seating free-for-all when they board their flights.

EasyJet is to trial allocated seating on selected routes in the spring, following a similar move by rival Ryanair.

Travelers are currently unable to choose a seat until they board the plane.

Those who have purchased speedy boarding or are traveling with young children have priority, but even there is no guarantee of a particular seat.

The trial of allocated seating is seen as another step on the road to increasing easyJet’s appeal to business customers. Shares fell 3 per cent following today’s update.

Ryanair currently charges a fee for a seat in the front row and has recently extended its reserved seating trial on 80 routes.

Although the move has not made the airline’s 25-minute turnaround any longer, a spokesman said the carrier has no plans to extend the programme to the entire plane.

The majority of passengers taking part in easyJet’s trial are not expected to pay for their seats, although the airline has admitted it plans to charge for popular spots such as the first few rows and seats over the wings.

Chief executive Carolyn McCall said it was too early to specify how much passengers would have to pay for the option, nor had the airline decided which routes would take part in the trial.

She told the Financial Times the trial was dependent on positive customer feedback and added: ‘If it increases boarding time we won’t do it.’

The news comes as the airline revealed a rise in profits today but warned it will become harder to pass higher fuel prices on to passengers.

The group reported a 31.5 per cent increase in underlying profits to £248 million in the year to September 30, which was at the upper end of expectations, after a sharp rise in the number of business passengers.

It said around 45 per cent of winter seats are already booked – about the same level as last year – but warned that weak consumer confidence across Europe will slow the rate at which higher costs can be passed on to passengers.

The record profits for the group came after it offset a £100 million increase in its fuel bill by focusing on cost controls and improved customer satisfaction levels. Its on-time performance improved by 13 percentage points to 79 per cent.

But the group warned the macro-economic environment remains challenging, while it is facing higher costs, including increased taxation and a £220 million rise in its fuel costs.

As a result it is taking a ‘cautious approach’ to expanding its fleet, which will lead to unchanged capacity in the first half of its financial year and growth of around 4 per cent for the year as a whole.

It expects first-half passenger revenues to increase by ‘mid-single digits’, helped by higher bag charges and other ancillary revenues.
The group announced payments to shareholders of £195million, which is about £5million more than previously expected amid pressure from its founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who along with his family is a major shareholder.

The Luton-based airline has been expanding its appeal to business customers, which tend to provide higher profits, by flying more to business routes and offering flexible fares.

Passengers traveling on business routes increased by one million to 9.5 million in the year.

Total revenues rose 16 per cent to £3.5 billion while revenues per seat were up 3.4 per cent to £55.27, helped by a rise in ancillary revenues.

Douglas McNeill, an analyst at Charles Stanley Securities, said Carolyn McCall’s first full year in charge had been a good one.

But he added: ‘Cost inflation looks to be greater than we had thought and pricing isn’t strong enough to compensate – the upshot is that our full-year 2012 forecasts may have to be reduced.’