When looking through the list of status benefits for the British Airways Executive Club, there are a more than a few that catch the eye:
- Lounge Access
- Priority Check In
- Priority Boarding
- Free Seat Selection
The list goes on. But: Did you know that there is a hidden benefit that isn’t on this list? So hidden in fact, that some crew members aren’t even aware of its existence.
Officially, this status benefit is known as theoretical seating. In laymans terms, it means that the higher your status within the British Airways Executive Club, the more likely you are to have a free seat next to you.
If we take a look at the official BA seatmap for an upcoming flight of mine, a number of seats are available for me to select.
However, by checking expertflyer, it shows that a number of seats are blocked. This would be the seatmap that a non-status holder would see on BA.com.
So How Can I Select Them?
As a BA Gold card holder, I’m able to select any seat I want, provided there’s nobody already sat there of course. And if the adjacent seat is free, a block will be put into place. Regardless of the cabin.
This works the other way too. If another BA gold card holder fancies the seat next to me, the block wont appear to them and they can also select any seat that they fancy. This is likely what has happened with seat 1C above.
Whilst BA Silver card holders get adjacent seats blocked too, I couldn’t comment on whether they could select a blocked seat next to a gold card holder. My understanding is that it’s almost like a game of top trumps. Which leads me nicely on to the next part…
What If The Flight Is Full?
Obviously, if every seat on the aircraft is sold, then nobody will have a blocked seat next to them.
However, if there are a few spare seats around, then who decides who gets a blocked seat and who doesn’t? The computer. Three days before departure, the seat map is passed over from the booking system (Amadeus) to British Airways. It’s at this point, the BA system (FLY) places the seat blocks in place.
As the flight fills up, FLY removes seat blocks in order to fill the plane up efficiently. It will start with the silver card holders. Once all the silver card holders have had their seat blocks removed, the system will then move on to gold card holders.
If there are a few spare seats on a flight then, once again, the blocks will slowly be removed. But this time next to the gold card holders. But how does it decide who gets a blocked seat next to them and who doesn’t? Who knows! I suspect it’s done by CIV score. Which is a whole different article. Again, put simply though, CIV is basically how important BA see you. If you have a score of 100, you’re likely flying the airline in first class every week. If you have a score of 0, you have signed up to the Executive Club, but haven’t flown with the airline.
My experiences with theoretical seating has been mixed. Not too long ago, I more often than not had a spare seat next to me. These days however, I’m less lucky. In fact, on my recent flight back from Tel Aviv, I had someone sat next to me, despite there being two open seats across the aisle. Of course, they could have been a gold card holder too, but as they had group 2 printed on their boarding pass, I doubt it.
Which just goes to show how mysterious this unpublished status benefit is!
Which Other Airlines Offer This?
Much like British Airways, other airlines do offer this benefit. And also much like British Airways, they don’t advertise it. Likely because it will cause too much of a headache for the complaints department if someone doesn’t get a blocked adjacent seat, when someone else does. I have heard that Lufthansa, Finnair and Qantas are at least a few airlines that do offer this though.
I have held top status with Virgin Atlantic, Alitalia and Turkish Airlines in the past. When flying all three, I have ended up with someone next to me, so I’m assuming that they don’t offer such a status benefit. Although I’m not totally sure there were other spare seats around.