W Power 2024

65 percent passengers paid extra to reserve a seat on the plane in the past year: Survey

A recent survey by LocalCircles provides insights into the 'dark patterns' employed by airlines and consumers' woes in paying extra to reserve flight seats

Samidha Jain
Published: Mar 29, 2024 01:48:48 PM IST
Updated: Mar 29, 2024 02:00:48 PM IST

65 percent passengers paid extra to reserve a seat on the plane in the past year: Survey44 percent of consumers who booked flights in the last 12 months say the airline was charging an extra fee for allotment of each seat on the plane. Image: Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

‘Dark patterns’ are tactics that some airlines and online travel portals employ to mislead customers into making unintended purchases during flight bookings. According to LocalCircles, a social media platform and pollster focusing on governance, public and consumer interest issues, there have been numerous complaints filed by fliers relating to these manipulative practices with the Ministry of Consumer Affairs via the National Consumers Helpline over the last year.

Following worries about dark patterns, the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) has released the Draft Guidelines for Prevention and Regulation of Dark Patterns 2023. These guidelines target the deceptive practices commonly found on e-commerce platforms. As per a report by The Leaflet in November last year, these guidelines were yet to be finalised by the Union government.

As per The Leaflet report, the DoCA has highlighted 10 deceptive tactics:

  1. False urgency, which manufactures a sense of product scarcity.
  2. Basket sneaking, where consumers find unexpected items in their carts.
  3. Subscription traps that make unsubscribing overly complex.
  4. Confirm shaming, a tactic guilt-tripping users into certain actions.
  5. Forced actions that compel users into unplanned commitments.
  6. Nagging through relentless prompts for actions like sign-ups.
  7. Interface interference, preventing users from tasks like subscription cancellations.
  8. Bait and switch, advertising one thing but delivering another.
  9. Hidden costs introduced just before a purchase is finalised.
  10. Disguised ads, where influencers promote without disclosing their compensation.

Last year, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs hosted a meeting to address concerns raised by the September 2023 LocalCircles survey, which emphasised unfair trade practices and misleading claims regarding ‘free’ web check-ins. Following this, the Ministry of Civil Aviation was urged to investigate the matter. However, little progress was seen thereafter. A December 2023 LocalCircles survey revealed ongoing consumer complaints in the travel sector, including issues like drip pricing, hidden charges, nagging prompts, false urgency, interface interference, basket sneaking, bait and switch tactics, and forced actions.

Considering the persistent consumer complaints regarding airline seat charges since the government’s inquiry in October of the previous year, LocalCircles conducted a subsequent survey, getting inputs from more than 40,000 responses from 300+ districts in India, to gauge the extent of the problem and any changes. One significant concern highlighted is that many airlines require families of four to pay seat allocation charges to sit together, posing challenges, particularly for young children or senior passengers who require special care.

According to the survey results, 44 percent of those consumers who booked flights in the last 12 months say the airline was charging an extra fee for allotment of each seat on the plane, while 65 percent said that they actually paid extra to reserve a seat on the plane. The survey further found that 66 percent of consumers surveyed say that they found it impossible to get seats together (when travelling with family/ others) without a seat fee on an Indigo flight; 21 percent said the same for a Spicejet flight; 19 percent indicated Air India; 16 percent indicated Vistara; and 10 percent said Akasa.

The survey concludes by highlighting that the current priority is for airlines to adjust their proportion of paid seats to a level that is more reasonable for consumers, particularly by refraining from obliging families to pay additional charges to sit together. Moreover, all airlines and travel platforms should transparently disclose any potential extra fees during the booking process. Furthermore, it is anticipated that the Ministry of Consumer Affairs will oversee that airlines and travel platforms refrain from employing unfair trade practices or dark patterns.

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