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Autumn Season 2012 booking for the Friends of Covent Garden

Important message for Friends about seat selection and packages.

By Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products)

18 April 2012 at 2.23pm | 50 Comments

Update 19 Apr 10am: We are extremely sorry that we have had to remove the select your own seat facility and have staffed up the Box Office to full capacity to enable you to choose your own seat by phone. If the Box Office is engaged do ring the Friends Box Office on the number below.

From tomorrow, our higher level Premium 2 Friends will be able to buy tickets for our new season.  As we enter a period of transition from the current website to the new one, you will notice some temporary measures we have had to introduce. These measures will apply to Premium 2, Premium 1 and Supporting Friends, and Advance Package Booking for standard Friends on 24 April, but will be removed before standard Friends general booking commences on 12 June.

Until the launch of the new website it will only be possible to purchase Autumn Season tickets using the Best Available option. Once the website is relaunched you will once again be able to select your own seat. The reason for the change is the introduction of a completely new seat map of the main auditorium that will allow wheelchair users to book online for the very first time.

Another consequence of the preparations for the new website is that package offers will only be available online until Tuesday 24 April. From Wednesday 25 April it will only be possible to book them by ringing the Royal Opera House Box Office on +44 (0) 20 7304 4004. 

Thank you for your patience while we complete this major project: we are hopeful that you will find the new website worth any disruption. If you have any questions about the booking process for Friends over this period, Susan Fisher (Head of Friends) and her team will be very happy to help in any way they can. You can contact the Friends office on +44 (0)20 7212 9268 between 9:30 am and 5:30 pm, Monday to Friday, or email

If you would like more background on the relaunch our Chief Technical Officer Rob Greig has written a series of blog posts outlining the changes.

By Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products)

18 April 2012 at 2.23pm

This article has been categorised Ballet, Opera and tagged 2012/13, announcement, booking, booking announcement, friends, tickets

This article has 50 comments

  1. If the new website is not ready then why are you launching it? Why not stick with the old one until the work on the new one is complete? That's what other organisations do.

    Not everyone wants the seats that you consider the 'best available'. People have different needs and different budgets. Do you realise that the customers you are alienating with this ridiculous and unnecessary measure are your most loyal and generous supporters? When are you going to employ someone with a bit of basic common sense to manage projects like this?

  2. Honestly? You're going to force your premium subscribers to use Best Available, holding off on Choose Your Own Seat until later?

    That is foolish and will lose you donors and subscribers! As well it should.

  3. I am utterly astonished. Who authorised that this was acceptable? I am assuming (though it is far from clear from the announcement above) that this is a project-planning derailment and has had to be introduced as an emergency measure. If it was a part of the plan from the start, I am very concerned that the Friends office, not to mention the Development Office and the press team, consented to it being so. If it is indeed an emergency measure why not have the good grace to admit it: it is far more likely to win you grudging favour than the appearance of an organisation that thinks it can disrespectfully inconvenience, at short notice. a loyal group of supporters, many of them more generous than I am. If I am not allocated the seats I want within the band I select, I will expect that to be corrected immediately when I email you with my requirements. The seats I aim for have mostly been available for far more popular things than much of BP1, so if they are not available to me after this farcical booking round, then I will consider that I have not had the benefits of Supporting Friend membership and request a partial refund. This is a disappointing development, to say the least.

  4. Lisa Katsiaris responded on 18 April 2012 at 9:36pm Reply

    Perhaps this question has been answered in the blog but, given the news about not being able to select preferred seats, I'm disinclined to read it. Why can the House not continue to use the current online booking system until the new one is fully ready to launch? Being able to choose my preferred seat (like many regular opera goers, I'm sure I'm not alone in having 'preferred seats', not just preferred areas of the House to sit in) is of paramount importance to me, particularly when spending hundreds of pounds on tickets. I subscribe as a Premium 1 Friend partly to take the stress out of booking. This news is very disappointing and, to be frank, it's just not good enough. Although it pains me to say it, badly done, ROH.

  5. Stephen Cutler responded on 18 April 2012 at 10:26pm Reply

    Simply unbelievable arrogance. What a way to treat people who support you loyally over decades.

    • Aside from the new website, I am tired of the attitude towards elderly friends. At last week's rehearsal of La Fille
      Mal Gardee there was yet another fire drill. This time in rain and thunder. Many elderly people had their coats in the cloakroom and had to stand in the street without them.
      When I asked why cloakrooms could not be closed on those days - I was told fire drills need to be spontaneous. Great for one friend who was undergoing chemotherapy. I wonder how many spontaneous fire drills happen with a full price ticket audience in the evenings.

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 24 April 2012 at 4:45pm

      We are very sorry you were inconvenienced but it is our legal requirement to run fire drills across the different types of performance that we hold. This means that each year there is at least one test fire drill for a main house performance as well as a rehearsal. In keeping with fire safety guidelines, we are not allowed to let anyone into the house to reclaim personal belongings, otherwise we would fail the test and be forced to run further tests or possibly close.

      Social Media Manager, Royal Opera House

  6. Lily Holmes responded on 19 April 2012 at 8:14am Reply

    Very upsetting news as I pay a premium to get the best seats for ME, not what the website decides will be the best available. It would have been courteous to send us an email about this, I've heard about this development from another (unhappy) supporting friend. As the wsebsite has been so long in the making why just not delay it for another month and treat all your customers the same?

  7. Charles Glanville responded on 19 April 2012 at 9:25am Reply

    No notice! No information! Instead, your best customers stuck being given really awful seats through your "best selection" facility (bull twaddle - F1 and F2 best!!!!!)

  8. Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 19 April 2012 at 9:39am Reply

    Dear all

    Thank you for your comments, the Friends of Covent Garden are very important to us and we would like to apologise for any inconvenience you experience during this transition period.

    It is still possible to select your own seat by ringing the Box Office or the Friends department on the phone numbers above, but we would also stress that Best Available does enable you to select a section and price type.

    We are not launching the website early, but our timing for this particular change has been determined by lots of different factors. We are currently preparing a blog that will explain this process and will update you soon.



    • John Guy responded on 19 April 2012 at 10:33am

      Ellen, I'm afraid I'm getting very confused, because when I phoned the Friends' Office just over an hour ago, I was reassured that Premium 1 Friends would still be able to book individual seats online, but we'd need to book each seat individually (as we do now) and hope they were still available by the time we'd saved them to the basket now that the waiting room is abolished. Is that information now wrong? By the way, please don't underestimate the strength of feeling about this issue. kind regards, John

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 19 April 2012 at 3:17pm

      Dear John

      On the new website it will be necessary to select each seat and add it to your basket, just as happens on the current website. Until you have added a seat to a basket you have not secured the ticket.

      Best wishes


  9. Mark responded on 19 April 2012 at 10:10am Reply

    I am astonished, and await the promised explanation and details of the "lots of different factors" with interest.

    If there's a problem it would seem to be that delaying period 1 booking would be a better solution than that which has been adopted.

    I can guarantee that the seats I want to buy in the grand tier will not be considered the 'best available'. As such I apparently have no option but to call you and spend far too long on the phone.

    My subscription is due for renewal soon - I'm really not sure that I'll continue at Supporting Friend level given this apparent disregard for your supporters. You didn't even let us know personally!!

  10. Jon responded on 19 April 2012 at 10:17am Reply

    What a strange way of treating your best customers. I was considering upgrading my Friends membership this year. If this is an indication of the way premium and supporting friends are treated, I won't be doing so.

  11. Sarah Roberts responded on 19 April 2012 at 12:24pm Reply

    I am furious; the first I knew of this was when I read the Intermezzo blog, not directly from you. I totally object to being told that the best available seats have been selected for me. In all my 45 years or so of attending performances at the ROH, I have come to 'know' which seats I prefer and which I consider to be unacceptable. One huge advantage for me of selecting my own seats online has been that sometimes I am not in the UK for booking and so, even when I am in Australia visiting my daughter and family, I am still able to book with 'minimum' difficulty. In fact, that was my main reason for upping my membership to Supporting Friends; not being compelled to spend hours, sometimes in an internet cafe in the middle of the night, trying to book. This time I shall be in the UK but I would MUCH prefer to be able to book online rather than to have to hope that I can book by phone.

  12. Miriam responded on 19 April 2012 at 1:29pm Reply

    I completely agree with Mark that delaying the P1 bookings would have been a better way of dealing with the problem. Depriving us of the possibility of choosing the seats WE like online is completely unacceptable and phoning is not an acceptable substitute.

    Also I am totally appalled by the discourtesy shown to us by not having notified us personally of the situation and leaving people to find out from social networking sites, or possibly just by logging in to do their bookings only to discover it doesn't work as expected.

    If my subscription was up for renewal soon I might not be renewing it at all, let alone at Supporting level.

  13. Sarah Roberts responded on 19 April 2012 at 1:45pm Reply

    On 10 April Ellen West responded to a question from Anna and said that 'You will indeed be able to pick a specific seat' This would appear to be no longer true.

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 19 April 2012 at 2:16pm

      Dear Sarah

      You will indeed be able to pick a specific seat once the new website is launched, but unfortunately we have had to suspend this function on the current website. This is due to an issue in moving from one type of seating plan to another for the new booking period. We apologise for any inconvenience and will share more details soon.



  14. Jeremy Crouch responded on 19 April 2012 at 2:51pm Reply

    This is an absolute disgrace. If you are unable to offer full funtionality then the new site ought not be to implemented. Given the amount of time it curently takes in the Waiting Room to access the booking service, how long do you expect the wait for an answer on the telephone?

  15. Miriam responded on 19 April 2012 at 2:57pm Reply

    I am very sorry, but I just do not find the response "We apologise for any inconvenience and will share more details soon" anything like good enough. Your apology does not in any way make up for the inconvenience, and we should have been told everything already.

  16. Rob Greig responded on 19 April 2012 at 5:24pm Reply

    Back in October 2011 we set the target launch date for our new website. Our reasoning for this date at the end of April was to wait until the early Friends' booking days had taken place, and then have five clear weeks before the next on-sale day so we could iron out the inevitable issues. Our planning was done with the aim to have no impact on any booking days.

    Yesterday, however, we discovered a problem with the old website: the 'choose your own seat' tool was not working for the new Season. We had changed the seating plan for the new Season to make a number of improvements, including how boxes are sold and access purchasing. Despite testing, we only discovered late in the day that the current 'choose your own seat' tool will not work with the new seating plan. There is not time to undo the changes for the whole of the autumn, so we have taken the difficult decision to put the Season on sale with only the best available seating functionality available.

    We really are very sorry for the disruption and confusion this has caused, we didn't want the final booking experience on our old website to be even more difficult. We really value your support and all the feedback we have had on the work we have been doing.

    Rob Greig, Chief Technology Officer, The Royal Opera House

    • Jeremy Crouch responded on 19 April 2012 at 5:49pm

      Sorry Rob, but that is simply not good enough. Firstly, if the date was decided in October why was this aspect which was know to be required at 10am tomorrow only tested yesterday? Secondly, why was there no contingency plan prepared for the eventuality that the new seating plan was not compatible with the old site? Finally (probably not questions for you) why were all affected friends not notified individually and why were the dates not put back so as to allow the problem to be rectified?

  17. Karen McLernon responded on 20 April 2012 at 11:02am Reply

    Rob Greig - Given the very late discovery of the seating plan issue "despite testing", I'd be interested in an explanation of your testing strategy prior to the full launch of the new website. How will you simulate thousands of people trying to book at the same time? I'm sure lots of ROH Friends would be willing to participate in a UAT exercise to avoid surprises at launch.

    • Rob Greig responded on 22 April 2012 at 12:30pm

      Hi Karen, the issue we had was a configuration problem within the normal business processes. In the website development we are using several methods for testing including: equivalence partitioning, decision table testing and use case testing. We have been use case testing for over a month now and we are currently regression testing the changes we have made. On the load and unit testing, you are absolutely right to point out how important this is, especially if we intend not to use a waiting room; we are using a professional independent load testing company to assess the load of the new site and we are also planning an organic load test after we go live but before the first Friends booking after launch.

      Best, Rob

  18. Rob Greig responded on 20 April 2012 at 2:11pm Reply

    Just to clarify, the date for launching the new website was decided in October 2011. We have not gone live yet but we are hoping to soon, all being well. In regards to the seating plan for the Autumn Season, we made a genuine mistake setting up the seating plan and only realised this issue with the old site on Wednesday. We can only apologise for this and assure you that we have taken steps to ensure that select your own seat works for the new website.

    It takes several weeks to set up a new season for sale and the team here make a big effort to get it right for our customers. It's difficult to have a contingency as such, our fall back is the best available seating. We know that is not the service you expect and we want to get back to giving everyone greater choice through the 'choose your own seat' tool as quickly as we can. I understand we have now contacted Friends, but I accept that we should have been quicker. Putting the booking day back is difficult because we have a programme of booking days which are all interconnected, we felt that to put the booking day back until the issue was resolved would have been even more disruptive.

    I hope people are still able to get tickets for what looks to be a fantastic season and we will do better next time.

  19. Hi, I am a member of the normal friends level and I have known this terrible situation by one of SNSs. I do not think I will be informed of this trouble by ROH.

    To be fair to ROH, in general, I think their system is one of the best ones. Recently, I went back to my homeland, Japan, and I had had many difficulties in booking the tickets not only of opera and ballet, but pop music concerts before I went back.

    However, ROH should have understood how much their loyal supporters pay for them, not only membership fee, cost of the tickets and the fund from Arts Council funded by the taxpayers. ROH are hugely supported by the loyal supporters, but still badly disappoint them frequently. They should not allow themselves to make any more thoughtless excuse.

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 21 April 2012 at 11:56am

      We expect to have launched the new website by the time of the booking days for the normal Friends level so you are very unlikely to be affected by the temporary inability to select your own seat. We are very grateful for the support of our Friends and apologise for any inconvenience. When we launch the new website we expect it to offer a greatly improved service to our customers.

  20. Duncan Gillies responded on 21 April 2012 at 4:17pm Reply

    Loving the ironic photo at the top of this. Is that them finishing assmbling the new server? I feel much sympathy for the much put-upon Box Office people who will have had to deal with the aftermath of this debacle.

  21. Nicolas Palmer responded on 23 April 2012 at 7:00pm Reply

    It would be very useful to use my AOL ISP to access
    your website.

    If only!

    Kind regards, Nick

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 24 April 2012 at 1:41pm

      Hi Nicholas,

      You should be able to book online using AOL with our new site. In the unlikely event of any issues, do please let us know though.

      Social Media Manager, Royal Opera House

  22. Ian Slade responded on 24 April 2012 at 6:59pm Reply

    As well as agreeing with so many posted remarks (my £300+ a year Supporting Friendship seems to get me 4 magazines and a glass of plonk at Preview Evening) I feel there is a more general point here, even if the system works. How are ordinary working people supposed to use Priority at 10 on a working day? Even at Supporting Level, booking never takes less than an hour online, and I once spent five hours on the phone from a holiday cottage in Devon trying to get through by phone. I appreciate that no time can suit everyone, but surely a weekend would at least suit more of us. As it is, it's easier to be either very rich or retired.

  23. Edmund Hobley responded on 27 April 2012 at 12:28pm Reply

    Your new booking system went live yesterday with the ability to select a seat.

    I do not understand why you did not hold up the Premium and Supporting Friends booking for just a week. We would have all then been able to select the seats that we really wanted

  24. In addition to agreeing with the above commentators, with respect to our concerns regarding the launch and timing of the new ROH website and booking system, I would like to know if certain information that we enjoyed on the old website will be, in time, included here as well.
    I refer to the synopses of operas and ballets, and also to the contents of the old 'Discover' section, which included very interesting and helpful articles on the history of opera and dance, the voice-types of singers, biographical information on composers and Artists, links to various Insights videos relating to current productions, and links to events such as the Anna Pavlova celebrations, both at Ivy House in Hampstead and at the evening event in the Linbury Theatre.
    The inclusion of such information would be welcomed, both for its usefulness and also for providing a sense that, as Supporters and Friends, we all enjoy a website that celebrates the art-forms of opera and ballet. It would be nice to think that the ROH website reflected the prestige of the opera house itself, with its international standing, by dealing with not just functional matters but with artistic information as well - thus it would compare favourably with websites of other opera-houses around the world. Many thanks, in advance, for digesting the contents of this comment!

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 2 May 2012 at 11:20am

      Dear David

      Many thanks for your comments. We are indeed looking at how we add depth to our coverage of our productions and the art forms in general. The old Discover area of the website contained a lot of information, but the way the website was put together left these static pages languishing, disconnected from anything else.

      It is a challenging task to completely rebuild a website and we have concentrated on getting the structure and essential processes right, but we are aware that there is a lot still to achieve. Over the coming months you will see more changes, and an increased richness of material.

      On your specific query about the Anna Pavlova celebrations, there is in fact a basic page for the event (which appears in our new website search); we will be adding more detail to it:

      Best wishes


  25. Sarah Delo responded on 30 April 2012 at 2:45pm Reply

    Hi I'm afraid I have to add to the above comments. Despite the staff with whom the public have interface seem most helpful, the Friends' membership Organisation seems to offer little incentive in comparison to other set ups. Friends Booking at 10 am is impossible for those of us who work and although we await the next online booking I fear it is not inclusive. I too agree re - recent Fire Drill at La Fille Rehearsal. In past times the Cloakroom was closed when a known fire drill was scheduled.
    It would seem your albeit ageing but nonetheless loyal customers may vote with their feet which would be sad for many members who are passionate and costly for the organisation.

  26. John responded on 30 April 2012 at 5:21pm Reply

    I feel sorry for all the nice people at CG who have had to deal with the fall out from such an unfortunate situation. I trust the CG management will have a bit of a 'what could we have done better' session to avoid such problems in the future. CG may be elitist but there is no excuse for arrogance

  27. Manuela responded on 2 May 2012 at 10:45am Reply

    There are still small glitches on the new website - for instance, it is sometimes quite tricky to click on the seat you want as all that happens is that the (closed, not pointing hand) icon enlarges the seating plan. Is there anything than can be done to rectify this?

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 2 May 2012 at 10:59am

      Thanks for the feedback Manuela, we are gathering people's responses to the new website and will be seeing whether there are changes that need to be made. We won't be making any immediate amends however.

  28. Manuela responded on 2 May 2012 at 6:30pm Reply

    Dear Ellen West - you might not be making amendments, but I think amends will be required...

  29. Maxine responded on 3 May 2012 at 5:26pm Reply

    I'm afraid I also have to add to the above comments.
    It seems there is nowhere on the new website that even gives details of the packages which are on offer for the new booking period, so it isn't possible to book these online. Shame on you ROH - what a shambles of a system "upgrade".

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 3 May 2012 at 10:11pm

      Dear Maxine, booking packages online is part of the next phase of development for the website, together with a completely new online shop. We apologise for any inconvenience. Ellen

  30. Pel responded on 5 May 2012 at 3:51pm Reply

    As is so often the case an "upgrade " does not mean an improvement and the new ROH website is one of these cases. If seats can only be booked one at a time it is likely that the web page will expire before 4 or 6 seats can be reserved. I have been trying desperately to check on my future bookings but am unable to see how to do this on the new website.

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 5 May 2012 at 4:07pm

      Dear Pel

      It takes a matter of seconds to select a seat, so I'm not sure why you are anxious about the browser session expiring. When you sign in to your account - using the link at the top of any page on the website - you will see a link to 'Your upcoming events'. This sets out your future bookings. Does this help? Do let us know if you have any further questions.

      Best wishes


  31. Jonathan Turton responded on 10 May 2012 at 8:45pm Reply

    I have just found the current website very frustrating.

    There are no clear instructions as to what you have to go through to select a seat. Guesswork and osmosis showed three steps were necessary per seat.

    Frequently there was a blank page on the link, albeit refreshing the page worked.

    I am trying to book for something where I thought friends booking had opened, the system says not yet open, but I am unable to find the page which says when it does open.

    The previous website was un-user freindly and not instincive (it felt desigend for ROH staff, not the public), it does not feel that the up-grade is any better.

    The contrast is stark with the Proms booking website which is easy to use.

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 11 May 2012 at 6:48pm

      Dear Jonathan

      I'm sorry to hear that you have found using the website frustrating. We are currently working on some user guides, but you may also find our Help section helpful.

      Booking is open for Premium and Supporting Friends but opens on 12 and 13 June for standard Friends. If you call into the first couple of categories you will need to be signed in to book. You'll find the link to sign in at the top of every page. You can then browse to the productions you wish to book for, via the calendar or search.

      Let me know if we can be of any more help.


  32. Maxine responded on 11 May 2012 at 8:00am Reply

    Just FYI, the "your upcoming events" page is not displaying full information. I have a couple of bookings which do not show up on this page.

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 11 May 2012 at 9:45am

      Hi Maxine. Thanks for the message. We're adding content and pages daily and have been since launch so these will be populated soon.


      Social Media Manager

    • Jamie Tetlow (Former Head of Digital Development) responded on 11 May 2012 at 10:41am

      Hi Maxine, in addition to Chris's reply we've discovered a bug whereby the list of "your upcoming events" is limited to 6 months in the future. We're implementing a fix now and hope to have this live on the website early next week. Many thanks for your comment.

  33. Nina Battleday responded on 18 April 2014 at 10:56am Reply

    How daft can the ROH get? It's like going back about 40 years ago when the box office staff treated customers with contempt. Like many others i object to having someone else decide which is the best seat.

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 18 April 2014 at 6:56pm

      Dear Nina

      Fortunately this was simply the case for a season, while we were relaunching our website. It was an unfortunate temporary measure rather than a change in policy. You can now not only select your seat but also see the view of the stage from each seat in the main auditorium.

      This news post was published in 2012 - I have added the year to the title so that will be clearer.

      Best wishes


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