Freedom of Seats (UPDATED)


Cineworld have decided to introduce allocated seating in their UK cinemas, reportedly from Friday 6th June, 2014. This is a terrible idea. This is nominally a film blog, so I’m not going to split hairs about what is and isn’t worth getting worked up over. However, since worse things certainly happen at sea, let’s keep it simple.

I have an Unlimited Card, which Cineworld recently upgraded to Premium by virtue of the fact I’d had it for a certain period of time. I love GFT (generally doesn’t allocate seats), have a lot of history with the Grosvenor (generally does) but regardless spend a lot of time in Cineworld – enough time to make my monthly Unlimited Card direct debit seem excellent value for money. Nevertheless, I reckon this is a dumb, unnecessary move, and I’m not alone. The change was brought to my attention on Twitter, via fellow film geek, Ross Maclean:

Excellent question.  Sean Wilson over at Cineworld posted a blog explaining their reasoning for the change. It goes a little something like this:

Allocated seating is coming soon to Cineworld. Guarantee your seats when you book online or in the cinema itself.

And there are additional benefits to allocated seating too:

1) Peace of mind

Select your seats in advance and arrive at the cinema knowing your seats are reserved.

2) Sit with your friends

If you have booked as a group, you can be sure that you will be able to sit together.

3) Enjoy a more relaxed journey to your seat

With allocated seating you no longer need to compete with other customers for available seats in the auditorium. Plus, if you arrive late you won’t have to search in the dark looking for available seats.

4) Less queues, less congestion

More customers booking online in advance, means less people queuing in the cinema. Simply turn up with your reserved seats already booked, and print out your tickets from our ATM’s or go straight through to the cinema screen with a smartphone to display your ticket.

5) More choice

With allocated seating, you can choose where to sit; you can also choose the screening time with the best available seats.

Stay tuned to the blog for more details.

Sean kind of avoids explaining why this is getting brought in, but let’s look at the “additional benefits,” briefly, one by one.

1) This should appeal to me, because I’m one of those people who insists on sitting middle-middle, infuriating and bemusing anyone who accompanies me. However, given Cineworld cinemas are fairly democratic in the layout of their seating, it’s really never been an issue for me to sit somewhere else. Actually, to be fair, fuck sitting in the front row for something in the line of Transformers – that happened and I could barely follow what was going on. The proper take-away from that, though, is arrive in plenty of time to get half-decent seats and then it’s not an issue. Arrive late and you take your chances. Why cater to people who can’t be fussed arriving on time? Maybe the answer lies in those “still time to buy yourself a Coke”  adverts.

2) Never been a problem. And again, this works just fine managed by the audience – arrive on time, get yourself a seat together. Those that breenge in at the last minute should have to sit separately.

3) “A more relaxed journey to your seat” is a euphemism for “rock up when you feel like it”, which to me means two things. One, more people arriving just as the film starts or, having misjudged their clever advert-skipping, once it’s underway. So far so irritatingly disruptive. Two, finding people sitting in your seats regardless, which, obviously that will happen. So, a relaxed journey to your seat, followed by a terse conversation and then potentially fisticuffs. “Plus if you arrive late, you won’t have to search in the dark looking for seats” – really? Because everyone instinctively knows the seating layout.  This seems like a key flaw in the proposed change – allocated seating requires ushers – to show you to your seat, to intercede in any ‘discussions’ that arise and to resolve inevitable problems with double-booking (or mistaken booking, e.g. when people get confused over the layout and book front row seats when they thought they were getting back row). Will Cineworld be hiring more staff to meet this requirement? Seems unlikely.

4) “Less queues, less congestion.” This is bullshit filler on the list, because it already happens with online booking. I suspect more people booking in advance will only mean more and bigger queues at the lobby ATMs.

5) “More choice.” Two of the most irritating things in a cinema are someone much taller than you sitting in front of you and people being loud or obnoxious (in a variety of ways). Ordinarily, you can just move – or ask them to move if they’ve blithely picked the only seat in an empty screen which obscures your view. Not anymore!

There are generally pros and cons to Cineworld’s laissez-faire attitude. I don’t love it when the projection goes wrong and it takes 15 minutes for anyone to notice much less do anything about it once a punter tracks down an usher to tell them. Allocated seating also makes sense for events – e.g. theatre, sports, opera – and that includes any satellite events hosted or live-streamed by Cineworld. But good seats being available to those who arrive on time and sit through all the fucking adverts doesn’t strike me as a problem that needs addressing. Anyway, those are my first thoughts – it isn’t broken, so why fix it? Maybe this is only an issue for geeks like me who spend all their money on films and plenty of their spare time at the flicks. I’d love to hear from anyone that thought it was a good idea, and why.


It seems to be almost upon us – a trip to see X-Men: Days of Future Past this weekend provided a fun demonstration of why allocated seating is such a wonderful idea in theory and practice. Three of us Unlimited Card holders wanted to see the movie and elected for a 19:50 3D screening because the preferable 2D screening at 20:00 was, according to the website, allocated seating. On arrival, we realised we’d screwed up by taking the confirmation code down wrong so we couldn’t collect our tickets at the machines – so far, so our dumb problem – but then noted that according to the screens in the foyer and the Cineworld app, that there was no 19:50 screening. Perhaps we’d totally fucked up. The guy on the desk tried to find our booking via the main card we booked with, but couldn’t. He reckoned maybe we’d booked for Parkhead by accident – we felt like idiots, but then that’s not totally unusual. We were rebooking for the 21:00 when I noted there wasn’t a 19:50 at Parkhead either. Upon hearing that, it occurred to one of the guys behind the desk (by then there were four staff members creasing their brows over our impossible problem) that they’d actually moved the screening to 20:00.


So then we had our tickets, and though we were technically allocated seats (see above), we were to ignore them. The guy who finally sorted us out also confirmed that allocated seating is coming in on Friday 20th June (there was also  lovely A4 poster placed behind the ticket desk, demanding precisely nobody’s attention). I quipped that I’d be back then with my placard, and he replied somewhat tersely, and with a discernible hint of exasperation, “Just book online.” Upstairs, I somewhat dickishly asked the guy taking the tickets if I was seated in K12 (see above), and he confirmed that I was indeed.

There’s also now a Facebook page, Say No To Allocated Seating, gathering some traction (or at least the latest information) and providing a space for all the negative chatter about Cineworld’s plans. They have this to offer by way of explanation for why Cineworld are bringing it in, beyond the mealy-mouthed benefits laid out in their blog, above:

These are the facts as I understand them:-

1) The new Chief Executive is the driving force behind both Allocated Seating and Star Seating. He thinks that it is a good idea based on what happens in Eastern European cinemas.

2) Allocated Seating will be brought in despite the negative feedback from the General Managers and Regional Managers who realise the pitfalls and the problems it will cause.

3) Head Office is constantly changing the instructions on how this new policy will be carried out. For example, it was initially agreed that the main lights would be left on until the main feature starts thus facilitating the customer in finding their allocated seat. This now won’t happen.

4) After the initial 8 week period when staff will be in each screen to help seat customers, there will be no extra money available to enable this happen and cinemas will not be employing more staff to aid us either.

5) The new Allocated Seating policy has not been heavily advertised and as such the cinemas anticipate a lot of problems on site when it is introduced on 13th June. Long queues are expected.

6) There will not be any seating plans available for customers to see nor will we be able to view the seating plan on the screen at the box office etc. Staff will be instructed to ask “front, middle or rear”. (Their system may well allocate the actual seat).

7) Allocated Seating will mean that more people will rush to book in advance and as rules state that if a screen has over 20 seats sold the film can’t be moved to another screen or cancelled. For example – this means that many cinemas could not have added Pulp Fiction screens after the first sold out – customers lose out again.

8) Managers are against this but because there have been so many redundancies in recent years, they are too frightened to speak out.

9) Staff and Management realise the new policy will upset Unlimited Customers in particular but are powerless to do anything.

10) Although the new seating has already been purchased, instead of going ahead with a full roll out, the new Star Seating will be trialled in only 5 sites.

To be continued, I guess!

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6 Responses to Freedom of Seats (UPDATED)

  1. poochface says:

    Hi Sean,

    Well said, your points mirror what I and others have said on this Facebook page.

    We have been promoting this blog and I hope you will post on the Facebook as it is my intention to send the link to Cineworld Head Office and ask them to address all these points and others that people have made instead of fobbing us off with the Blog as they have done on their official Social Media.


  2. poochface says:

    If you wish to know more about the politics behind Cineworld’s new Allocated Seating policy please see


  3. Anonymous says:

    I used to go regulary now i go to showcase. Customers should remember vote with your money, go to another cinema. I wont return even if they reverse this idea because they have shown a total lack of respect to thier customers and the negative feedback.


  4. Sheila says:

    I’m an Unlimited cardholder, and so am anti-allocated seating. When I discovered this was coming in, I wrote to the company to complain. They have not yet responded. I believe that the allocated seating system demonstrates a serious lack of consideration to Unlimited cardholders. We are loyal – paying out each month, for years at a time, regardless. We are true cinema-lovers, going often to the cinema alone, rather than as a social activity, and paying attention to the film rather than going there in order to chat to other people sitting beside us or on our phones. We attend the cinema at a variety of times during the week – not just at weekends. We attend our favourite films repeatedly. We respect the cinema and we respect the films. We have not been shown the same respect. Cineworld appear to value the type of customer who turns up now and again for big blockbusters at the weekend in groups, who stock up on popcorn, and who chat on their phones, and cause a disturbance. They do not appear to value the people who are constantly there, for whom cinema is a way of life, and for whom anything that reduces the quality of their filmgoing experience reduces their quality of life. For me the biggest problem is that being short (I’m 5 feet 3), on maybe 40% of the time I’m attending Cineworld, I have to move my seat once the person in front of me sits down, as they are too tall, and obscure my view, sometimes making things very uncomfortable for me. In the case of a 3D performance (which I try to avoid, but sometimes it’s the only option at a time suitable for me) it totally ruins the effect, to have someone’s big head in the middle of the screen. In the past, I’ve simply moved (when the cinema has not been full, which it often isn’t at the times I attend). But now I’ve got to sit there, with my viewing experience ruined. Thanks, Cineworld, for not showing me the loyalty I’ve always shown you, and for proving once and for all that you don’t actually care about films.


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