Frontier Airlines Will Now Sell You An Empty Middle Seat

Filed Under: Frontier

Update: Frontier Airlines has backtracked on this due to misdirected outrage from the public.

Frontier Airlines has just introduced a feature to guarantee you an empty middle seat on a flight… if you’re willing to pay.

Frontier Airlines’ “More Room” seats

Frontier Airlines has launched “More Room” seats, allowing passengers to assign seats with empty middle seats next to them. These seats can now be selected starting at just $39 per flight. You can select one on Frontier’s website (either during the booking process or anytime before travel) or at check-in.

For now these are only available for flights between May 8 and August 31, 2020, and at a later date the airline will decide whether to extend the program.

There will be a total of up to 18 “More Room” seats per flight, and that includes the first three rows, which also have more legroom.

Frontier Airlines will also require passengers to wear face masks as of May 8, 2020, as was previously announced. Since April the airline has also required passengers to accept a health acknowledgement prior to completing check-in

As Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle describes this move:

“While we believe the best measure to keep everyone healthy is to require face coverings, for those who want an empty seat next to them for extra peace of mind or simply additional comfort, we are now offering ‘More Room.”

This is the way to go about airplane “social distancing”

Many airlines are doing a terrible job with the messaging around social distancing on airplanes:

  • Some airlines have promoted that they’re “blocking” middle seats, though in reality that just means they won’t assign middle seats in advance, but will at the airport; this doesn’t mean what people think it means
  • No matter what, proper social distancing on a plane isn’t possible, given the logistics
  • The outrage from people who choose to take flights and then are shocked that other people are also choosing to take flights seems misdirected
  • While some airlines can afford to leave middle seats empty for now (while they’re losing billions of dollars), this isn’t sustainable long term; requiring face masks seems like the best practice, and if people want an empty middle seat, make them pay for it

This should become an industry standard option

I hope that this is a long-term practice that most major airlines adopt. Historically it has been possible to book an extra seat for yourself, but the process has been complicated, and the option hasn’t been well marketed. It has almost been a secret.

This is the perfect time for airlines to introduce this on a widespread basis:

  • Airlines are going to be struggling for a while
  • This could generate incremental revenue and make people feel more comfortable flying

But seriously, airlines should take this to the next level and encourage people to do this:

  • Don’t just let people reserve an empty middle seat, but rather let them reserve as many seats as they’d like — why not give people a full row, or even three rows, if they want to pay for it?
  • Incentivize people to do this — given the situation, why not award full elite and redeemable miles for all seats booked, especially as airlines are going to want to be filling seats?
  • This should be a straightforward process that’s encouraged during booking, where you can check a box, rather than the previous process that confused so many people

Bottom line

Frontier Airlines will now sell passengers empty middle seats. You do have to pay for it, but at least the middle seat being empty is guaranteed, which is more than other airlines have done.

I commend Frontier for this move, and encourage other airlines to offer — and even incentivize — this going forward. The reality is that social distancing is never possible on a commercial plane, and it’s also not financially viable for airlines to block middle seats long term without raising fares by ~50%.

Mandatory face masks are good for now, but if people feel an extra layer of comfort by having an empty seat next to them, give them that option at a cost.

What do you think — would you like to see more airlines selling a blocked middle seat (or even a blocked row)?

Comments
  1. I like that approach from Frontier and I agree that this should be incentivized. This might actually be the method to ensure that proper social distancing on a plane is indeed possible, especially when looking at the logistics: The aircrafts AC filters (eliminates) >99,9% of particles and the entire cabin air is exchanged or treated approximately every 1.5 to 2 minutes.

    To claim that a free middle place still does not allow social distancing is premature and lacks any scientific basis, since studies are currently lacking.
    What can be said, however, is that at present no infection in a commercial aircraft has been proven. After all, social distancing is gradient.

  2. On this topic, Lufthansa also claimed that they will block middle seats until 3rd of May but they did not respect that on the flight I took on Sunday. Same with Croatia airlines. Both flights were completely full. Strangest trip of my life…

  3. a) this should have been an option for years. I’ve argued it is something I would pay for if the price was maybe 25% of the seat you are in.

    If they know the seats will go unsold… why not get some money for them?

    b) Tom – air traffic is picking up around the world, and flights have been cut to the bone. I flew yesterday, maybe 70% full. Been flying every week actually, and it’s getting busier. I had a seat mate for the first time in 2 months yesterday.
    It’s a GREAT sign – really happy to see it as I’m sure anyone with a heart is!

  4. George. Don’t get me wrong, I am just pointing out that they do not follow their own procedures. Also they did not allow passengers without mask on board despite obligatory mask was to be introudced a day later. I am all for safe travel, and happy that more people were able to get to their destination.

  5. “ It’s a GREAT sign – really happy to see it as I’m sure anyone with a heart is!”
    @George

    It’s funny how a lot of jobs, who prior to COVID-19 felt it was absolutely necessary to send their employees everywhere, have adapted rather quickly to telework. If this virus makes corporations re-think company travel reducing carbon emissions and helping preserve this environment I’d be ‘really happy to see it as I’m sure anyone with a heart is!’

  6. Agree with you Ben, but there is a but… IF this is going to be a “normal” situation it will for sure unlock more violence on board than we have and had.
    Imagine that you pay for three rows, for sure in many countries once boarding completed there will be some nerds that are in more crowded areas and didn’t want to pay extra will move to your paid ‘extra room.’ So F/A’s will be once more involved in complications.

  7. There should be no reason not to offer extra seats at the same price as the passenger’s “main” seat – buy a 3-by-3 block of 9 seats at market price and enjoy your own “cubicle”.

  8. Even with an empty middle seat, the space between two passengers in the same row is going to be way less than the recommended 6 feet. I think that while it’s good that airlines offer the option for passengers to buy the middle seat passengers should be aware that this is still not a good substitute for proper social distancing.

  9. @Xurando:
    They are not selling the middle seat. They are selling the guarantee of an empty middle seat.

    Conclusion: if you want to buy an entire row, the price would not be $39 but starting much higher – in this example maybe at $78. it might be cheaper than a second ticket because airlines would save on airport taxes, food, weight, etc. (it might also be more expensive because some airlines earn money with ancillary fees which an empty seat would not generate).

    @Nelson:
    Vietnam Airlines already sells entire rows – the seats have a reserved sign on them. But maybe Vietnam Airlines Customer base is more respectful than Spirit customer base.

  10. This has already been an option and is not novel in any way just because it occurs during COVID-19. Ask any person “of size” who has routinely purchased an extra seat for themselves – thus guaranteeing an empty middle seat. Poor man’s first class is a row of three for just two people.

    All you need to do is purchase three seats then have one of the pax’s names be “Empty Seat” or “John Smith Middle Seat” or something equally obvious. Check all pax in online, then explain everything to the gate agent so they make sure to scan all three boarding passes. If the FAs attempt to move someone to your empty-but-paid-for seat, show them the boarding passes. I’ve seen this happen many times on various airlines and it’s never been a big deal.

  11. @AR:
    Those are all more or less complicated workarounds.
    The whole point of this article is that there finally is an official method to guarantee an empty middle seat.

    Besides, chances are that your suggestions are more expensive than the one described in this post.
    And with your method in the end there is no guarantee that „John Smith Middle Seat“ will sit next to you: aircraft may change and there currently is quite some reseating going on due to trimming. And I am not sure if I want to explain everything to the gate agent.

    I still find this a good idea by Frontier.

  12. Selling middle seats: absolutely. The airline could conceivably collect that revenue twice per middle seat if there’s a seat on both sides of it.

    Selling entire rows: needs some kind of minor logistical support, such as closing off the row of seats and marking it as reserved. As others have mentioned this could lead to more conflicts, but in practice I have only once in 35+ years witnessed an actual conflict, and there wasn’t violence.

    Pricing them will be the big issue.

  13. Every airline does it. You call them and say you need a second seat because youre too big for one.

  14. Amazing idea for who?

    The notion that a rich person could buy as many seats on the plane that suits them comfortable is absurd. Undoubtedly, this could inflate ticket prices (as demand for the leftover seats goes sky high) – leaving the people who can only afford to buy one ticket to travel to a place they can only get to by plane, stranded.

    Am I missing something or is this an insane oversight by those that forget some people can’t afford travel to the same level of privilege those on this blog can?

    Lord knows the monsters that run these airlines read these blogs and will consider implementing this horrific strategy.

  15. I think this is a great idea, although at most it could probably only be feasibly upgauged to maybe allow someone to buy a set of three seats for themselves (at likely a higher premium than double the cost of buying the middle seat, since I bet part of how this makes sense is that both the person in the aisle and window seats in the rows with blocked middles have to pay the fee to sit in either seat). Any more and it would probably become infeasible for airlines economically and also it would become a massive headache for FAs (I doubt many people are going to try to snag an empty middle seat next to someone, but if they are in a fully occupied row it would likely make it harder for FAs to explain why they couldn’t take a seat in a completely empty set of three seats because someone “paid” for them since this is a fairly new concept that isn’t as easy to explain as why you can’t take first class or sit in well labelled economy plus). More airlines should try this as a way to at least monetize social distancing in a user friendly way.

    Regarding @Jeff’s concern that it’s unfair, I can see his point to an extent. As I mentioned above, this could get out of hand if one person could start blocking off entire sections of the plane for themselves (which would make social distancing even harder for other passengers) but I don’t think charging a small premium for a blocked middle seat (Frontier’s more leg room seats are typically priced fairly reasonably and in line with what they usually charge as a premium for more legroom seats) should be prohibitive to the majority of passengers (especially when you consider how cheap Frontier’s fares are to begin with). My bigger concern would be that there’s going to be more demand for these seats than there is availability. I do wonder how this would work on other mainstream airlines since they will likely charge a lot more for this premium, but its a good fit for airlines like Frontier.

    Finally, I do think this would actually make airline flying safer. True, you still are going to be closer than 6 feet from people, even with this blocked seat, but given the air filtering on commercial airliners and the requirement that everyone wear masks (which, unless you are properly wearing an N95, only protect other people from the mask wearer) will help a lot. This at least helps minimize physical contact with other people.

  16. @Jeff

    You are missing a lot of things.

    1. The notion that a rich person could buy as many …….. that suits them. That is the whole point of being rich. You can afford stuff, the more disposable income the more absurd stuff you can buy. You wouldn’t spend you life savings on a toilet made of gold right?
    2. Undoubtedly, this could inflate ticket prices. Yes that is econ 101, supply-demand. You think Frontier never sells ticket more than $29. They can be more expensive than AA/DL/UA.
    3. Unfortunately if you can’t afford, you shouldn’t travel.
    4. same level of privilege those on this blog can. People on this blog aren’t all privileged. And the privileged don’t fly Frontier. So, nothing you need to worry.
    5. Lord knows ….. that unless you are a televangelist, the lord can’t make you rich. Don’t expect the lord to bail you out. And don’t waste the $1200 ‘actual’ bailout on a new TV.

  17. I booked a couple of frontier tickets today. There were a limited amount of rows with the middle seat blocked off. The aisle & window seats of those rows were priced higher than the rows next to them selling all 3 seats. I’m a little concerned that I’m hearing the airline may still fill that middle seat ‘if needed’. That would be false advertisement wouldn’t it?

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