… but this morning Evan Davies discussed the issue of seat reservations on trains. He identified a number of issues:
- customers with flexible tickets can reserve a seat, but they may not actually travel on that train
- customers with a reservation switch to another seat if the allocated seat does not meet their needs, notionally taking up ‘two seats’
- there may be seat reservations on a train with many spare seats, so the reservation appears unnecessary
- if the train fills up, vacant reserved seats are used anyway by customers who have not reserved that seat.
He therefore argued that seat reservations were a waste of the train companies’ resources, but if they were to be continued, it should only be for ‘busy trains’ travelling long distances.
We’ve discussed the pros and cons of taking reservations before on this blog (28 April 2014), but not in this context. Davies went on to discuss these issues with a spokesperson from Virgin Trains. This company has found that there is relatively high demand from passengers for seat reservations, mainly to reduce anxiety about whether or not they will get a seat. They argued that whilst the operational problems Davies outlined may exist, these are outweighed by customers’ concerns.
But Virgin were taking action to reduce the downside of this service and address some of the issues identified. They had eliminated the need for paper reservations to be attached to the seat, by using their in-train entertainment system to electronically display the seat reservation. They were also exploring the idea that customer could book a specific type of seat (window/aisle, with or without a table, facing towards/away from the engine), to avoid the ‘two seat’ scenario.