May 17, 2014

Cinematters: Cineworld's new seating policy

I spend a lot of my time in cinemas and most of that time, thanks to the godsend that is the Unlimited card, is spent at Cineworld.  I'm now in my seventh year of having a card and it has more than doubled the amount of films I am able to see annually.  Despite the frequent frustrations of attending multiplexes I absolutely love it.  One of the great attractions of the Unlimited card, beyond it making my cinema trips exponentially less costly, was the fact that Cineworld do not allocate seats.  Every ticket has GA [General Admission] printed on it, allowing you to pick your seat as you walk in to your screening.  This has always been, by far, my preferred system but, sadly, Cineworld appear to have decided to switch to 100% allocated seating beginning in June.  I'm, to put it mildly, not a fan of this choice.  Here are a few reasons why.
A screening with allocated seating

When you are selecting an allocated seat you are given a diagram of the layout of the screening room.  This is fine as far as it goes but many's the time I've been burned at other venues, thinking I've booked a good seat, but finding on entering the screening room that it is not what I expected.  There are more considerations than the simple issue of where along the X and Y axes you choose to sit.  For instance, what is the rake (the level of the seats relative to each other) like?  One of the Cineworld screens I go to regularly has a very strange, almost undulating, rake, that can be difficult for certain films and even now I would struggle to know from a diagram where I would want to sit in that screen.  There is also the Cineworld screen that has an extremely strange layout, with the screen set off centre in the room, meaning that in certain spots you have to sit to the side of the room to look at the centre of the screen.  This is unlikely to be reflected on a diagram.

These, of course, are issues that I can only point to because I know these (and other) screens inside out, but I go to four Cineworlds regularly.  One has three screens, one has seven, one has ten and the last has another ten, plus a special screen.  I have probably, at some point, been in most of these screens, but I am by no means familiar with all of them and by no means would I always know where I would wish to sit from a diagram.  Sure, the diagram shows me where the screen is, but not how large it is, which has a deciding effect on where I sit most of the time (absent any other issues).  If I don't know the screen well then I won't know where I want to sit until I get in there.

Whenever possible I get to a screening early so that I can stake out the spot I want to sit in.  This generally means that I am among the first people to sit down and that others, as they file in, end up sitting around me.  I'm not a tall man, which sometimes causes problems in screens with a poor rake and the fact that seats are unallocated means that I can move if someone tall ends up sitting in front of me and ends up obscuring my view (I'd say the same goes with talkers, but I tend just to ask them to be quiet).  Even if the seat I want to move into is empty before (or even during) a screening, allocated seating removes this option and would lumber me with an obstructed view.

There are also, on occasion, other reasons that I might wish to switch seats.  From time to time I have ended up sat in close proximity to someone with, shall we say... less than perfect personal hygiene (there's one regular at one of the Cineworlds I go to who wears a suit that looks and smells like it's made out of carpet from the 70's).  Again, in allocated seating you can't move, assuming, of course, that you've sat in your allocated spot to begin with.

Let's say that the stars have aligned and I HAVE booked my ideal seat and that because I know that I have arrived a little later than usual, perhaps skipping the ads and arriving for the trailers.  It's not unlikely that someone is already sitting in my seat, because there are a lot of people who, in my experience, simply don't abide by the allocation they are given.  Sometimes this is through ignorance, sometimes they've not booked ahead and want to sit with someone else, sometimes, frankly, they're just dicks.  None of these makes for an especially comfortable situation.  This is a conversation I've had quite a few times...

Me: Hey, sorry, but you appear to be in my seat.
Them: There's plenty of other seats.
Me: Yes, but this is the one I'm ticketed for.
Them: Just move a couple of seats.
Me: Well, then I might be in someone else's seat, and I chose that one on purpose...

It can get uncomfortable fast, and even when I'm in the right I feel bad about having to do it.  I don't go to the cinema thinking that it'd be brilliant to split up a group of friends who want to sit together (though I have previously said no when, under General Admission, I was asked to shift up 'like, 4 seats' so a group could sit together, because in a smaller screen that was the difference between a good seat and a shitty one), but I still end up having that conversation because several times when I have had to sit elsewhere than my assigned seat I've ended up on the receiving end of the 'Hey, sorry, but you appear to be in my seat' opener.  

Cineworld now has, on average, 23 minutes of ads, trailers and idents before the film (that's another rant for another time, but trust me, we'll get there), and yet still people often arrive up to 20 minutes late for the feature; a good 45 minutes after the time on their ticket (do they think it's like a gig?)  I can't imagine why they stay, but at least, most of the time, they are forced to sit in the most convenient place, generally towards the side of the screening room, because most people who arrive early or on time gravitate, given the choice, to the centre of the screen.  This is, of course, much less likely to be true with allocated seating.  

How frequently, at allocated screenings, have you seen someone arrive 20 minutes late and then pick their way through half a full, central, row, casting shadows on the screen as they go, to get to their assigned seat?  It's something I see constantly at allocated screenings.  It causes disruption and noise, interrupts both the illusion and the flow of the film and is almost completely avoidable by using General Admission tickets.

The selling point of this new policy is that it will apparently cut down on waiting because you can simply book your seats online, know exactly where you are sitting, and then turn up and pick up your tickets more or less at your leisure.  This isn't a bad idea in principal, especially where big releases like the upcoming X-Men: Days Of Future Past, screenings of which are sure to be jam packed, are concerned.  Unfortunately there is a fatal flaw in how the Cineworld website is set up which completely screws Unlimited card holders and renders this selling point entirely moot.

You can only have one screening booked at a time.

Let's assume that you are a relatively normal cinemagoer.  During the summer season there are probably many blockbusters you are excited to see, perhaps two  or three in the same week (Maleficent, Edge Of Tomorrow and A Million Ways To Die In The West all open within days of each other, for instance).  If you want to see all of them then you're out of luck as you can only book one screening ahead of time, meaning that you miss out on the pick of the best seats specifically for the most in demand films.

I'm aware that I am not a normal cinemagoer, and so this new policy screws me in a particular way too.  I live some way outside London, which is where my nearest Cineworld sites are, so I tend to go once a week and spend a whole day seeing three or four films, often at a single site.  Usually I can get all of my tickets at the same time, freeing me up to be able to get to each screening as soon as possible to grab the seat I want.  Under the new system I will be disadvantaged not merely by the issues I set out above but by the fact that since I can only book one ticket ahead of time, I can't set up my cinema day in advance.  The physical queue in the cinema may shrink, but the virtual queue for  seats will be long, and because of this abysmal functionality I will be perpetually at the back of that queue, taking pot luck on the seats that are left.

If this policy is to be implemented this is the first thing Cineworld needs to fix.  Other customers can book multiple tickets ahead, Unlimited customers need to be able to do the same.

So, that's why I don't like this policy change, but I'd love to know what you think.  Are you for or against allocated seating?  Do you agree with my points?  Let me know either in the comments or by tweeting me @24FPSUK (you could also tag @cineworld).

Please feel free to share this article (with proper credit and a backlink).


  1. Agree on literally all points Sam. I didn't know they were doing this. I am not a normal cinema attendee and I often will catch 2 or 3 films in a day, a Tuesday for example as I do shift work. Not happy about the changes at all. I'll join you on your soapbox,


    Dave Wheeler (Crawley cineworld resident)

  2. The moving someone is the biggest thing for me. You KNOW this is always going to be a problem and there will be NO staff around to deal with it.

  3. You make valid points Sam, like you I know exactly where I want to sit in my regular Cineworld (Liverpool) but often have to travel to St Helens and the layout differs from screen to screen. How the hell will I know which gives me the optimum view point when I don't know the size or design? I also travel to Didsbury at times and have suffered the pillock sitting in my seat problem.

    I'm also tiny in stature and have had the tallest person in the world sit in front of me just before the film is due to start, whilst their much smaller companion sits next to them. When I am forced to sit in front of someone already seated, I always check to make sure they can see clearly. I expect the same consideration and have been known to ask the latecomer to change seat with their shorter companion. Usually they are fine with this.

    This post of yours has been shared on a Facebook page set up so that all those against this enforced policy can make their points. Hopefully, it will allow Cineworld to see the amount of people who are against this plan without having to wade through various other posts.

    You are most welcome to contribute.

    1. I agree.
      I like to choose ehere I sit inside yhe cinema.
      If I cant do that, then at least I want to see where best to sit by looking at the computer screen showing yhe seating plan when I arrive st the cinema, but the box iffice have been yold not to allow this.
      Why make it so awkwsrd for loyal customers. please get rid of this anti-custer policy now.

  4. I agree with you sam your points are very valid, i am a cineworld unlimited card holder (Solihull) and i see about 5-6 films a month depending on what time of year it is and what films are out at the time, and i have certain seats that i sit in, in certain screens, what is worrying me is if i just turn up at the cinema because im out and about (this is the beauty of the unlimited card) and just fancy watching a film and i have not booked on my cineworld to get the seats i want i will be automatically allocated a seat, this seat will not be great and i will not enjoy the film as much as i would if i could pick my own seat when i am walking up the stairs in the screen at the cinema. Also they will need to change how many bookings we can have open at one time, because having one is just not going to cut it, i will need about 4, so i can plan my trips

  5. Everyone I have spoken to about this thinks it is a terrible idea, even the staff at my local cineworld. Virtually every online comment I have read is negative.
    Cineworld, please don't stubbornly proceed with this. Listen to your customers or you will loose them.

  6. Hey, cineworld staff member here. I Will remain anonymous for obvious reasons.
    The allocated seating issue has been quite the talking point amonst staff recently. We fully expect it to be an absolute nightmare to deal with.
    Along with customers, staff and managers were not consulted about this. Apparently some people at head office thought this would be a good idea and decided to run with it, and that was it, dont bother what anyone else thinks.
    Please don't be thinking I am just an angry employee spouting off. I am not. I have worked for cineworld for a few years now and , in general, I enjoy my job but this will make things a lot more difficult. Time spent at the till point will increase and problems in the screens will be inevitable.
    Cineworld are trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist, claiming in will enhance the customer experience. It won't.

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

  8. Hello, cineworld staff member here again. After just 3 days working with allocated seating I can confirm what was already glaringly obvious, it doesn't work ! Long, slow moving Ques are now common place and customers are becoming quickly frustrated, unable to see any real significant benefit to having a numbered seat.
    Just to annoy customers even more, cineworld are are set scrap online discounts and reintroduced booking fees. A move that will inevitably result in lost trade. Not a clever move

  9. Would it be cynical to think that by introducing allocated seating, the most immediate effect is to cause a bottleneck at the box office. You could then try to encourage customers to avoid the lengthy wait at the till by booking online. You could then remove the online discount and introduce a booking fee, perhaps?
    Nice 'customer 1st' policy

  10. I don't like allocated seating for similar reasons, however I can understand allocating seats at peak periods or big films in maybe first two weeks, but when you're there at lunchtime or films at end of run you can find yourself almost on your own, it seems an unnecessary bit of red tape!
    Not thrilled about booking fees comng back in either!