Frontier Airlines Shamed For Wrong Reasons

Filed Under: Frontier

If you ask me, this outrage towards Frontier Airlines is completely unwarranted.

Frontier Airlines’ “More Room” concept

A couple of days ago I wrote about Frontier Airlines’ “More Room” concept — the airline was going to start selling seats that include a guaranteed empty middle seat.

Most airlines have long let you purchase a second seat if you want more room, so I think this was a smart concept. They were essentially making it more affordable and easier to make sure you have an empty seat next to you, should you want that comfort and peace of mind.

I encouraged other airlines to follow Frontier’s move, and think it’s a great option in general, especially as demand is unlikely to fully recover anytime in the next couple of years.

Frontier Airlines planes in Denver

Frontier Airlines backtracks due to backlash

The Denver Post reports that Frontier Airlines is backtracking on this policy due to backlash. The outrage came both from the public, as well as from several US Senators, who clearly used this to make a political point.

As Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle describes the decision to not follow through with this initiative:

“We recognize the concerns raised that we are profiting from safety and this was never our intent. We simply wanted to provide our customers with an option for more space. We will leave the seats blocked which were associated with this product and honor purchases made by all customers who bought the product up until now.”

Prior to that Biffle had said the following to justify this optional service:

“We continue to see a lot of feedback from customers that say ‘OK, I get it, I see that I’m safe but I’d just like a little more peace of mind,’ so we have offered this product, this guaranteed middle seat open.”

What do people actually want?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the increasing amount of “full flight” outrage we’re seeing. The way this works:

  • Non-essential workers take flights, most of which were probably cheap, since airfare is very low right now
  • These are people who generally don’t actually need to be on planes (they could either just stay home or drive) and are outraged to find that other people are doing the same
  • Even though the airline never promised to block all middle seats, passengers claim that they feel extremely unsafe, and seem to think that their $36 ticket entitles them to a private jet
  • They’re also outraged that there’s no “social distancing,” even though proper social distancing on a plane is an oxymoron

It’s these unrealistic expectations that made me appreciate Frontier’s approach to things. Realistically airlines are doing a much better job cleaning planes and are also requiring face masks, but blocking all middle seats isn’t a common practice:

  • Do people want airlines to block all middle seats and raise fares 50% or more to account for that?
  • Do people want airlines to block all middle seats and absorb the cost, even though they’re already losing billions of dollars?
  • Is the real problem that people who don’t want to pay for it have an issue with other people being able to pay for it?

In theory I can appreciate the frustration associated with the last point. Safety should be a given for people, and shouldn’t come at a price. However:

  • It’s not like it’s safe to fly when you’re two feet from someone, but not safe to fly when you’re a few inches from someone; it’s mostly about peace of mind
  • If you’re really concerned about your safety, don’t get on a plane right now, rather than blaming airlines when you do get on a plane; there’s a highly contagious virus and we don’t yet have a vaccine or proper testing when flying
  • In exit rows you’re further from the person in front of you, so should airlines not be able to sell exit row seats for more? What about first class seats (though obviously Frontier doesn’t have first class seats)?

Frontier Airlines A320

Bottom line

I thought Frontier Airlines’ plan to sell blocked middle seats was a smart move that could generate some revenue. Realistically no airline is going to block middle seats for “free” long term.

I don’t really get what solution people are proposing in place of this — do they think that everyone should get a blocked middle seat for “free,” do they want airfare to go up 50%+ across the board and then everyone is guaranteed an empty middle seat, or do they just not want some people to have the option to purchase more space? Should airlines not be able to charge a premium for more spacious seats, since they do offer more personal space and distance from others?

This seems like misdirected outrage, if you ask me…

Where do you stand on this? To anyone who disagrees with me, what do you actually want to see airlines do?

(Tip of the hat to Live and Let’s Fly)

  1. Just raise the fare 50% across the board and block the middle seat. If anyone “needs” to fly, they will pay that fare. These are unusual times, so don’t expect to pay “usual” fares.

  2. @David — my thinking exactly.

    This fee-for-everything is as infuriating as it gets, and am glad that they got the well deserved public lashing for it.

  3. “especially as demand is unlikely to fully recover anytime in the next couple of years”

    That’s quite the assumption. We’ll have to see about that one.

  4. Agree with @David. As classist as it sounds, the folks that are “outraged” over the lack of social distancing are not the folks who typically have any concept of economics, let alone the specific economics of air travel (or general common sense). They’re also likely travelling for leisure on the cheapest ticket, taking advantage of the pandemic. Increasing prices to allow airlines to operate while accounting for social distancing will keep these outraged knuckle-draggers off planes and hopefully at home…or at some “Liberate [state]” protest where they’ll succumb to their own ignorance.

  5. My opinion is that if they want to charge for the extra seat, then they passing the responsibility of safety to the passenger as an option. As David said, just bake into the flight, so that really need to fly will pay for it. By making it optional, Frontier is trying to get their planes filled with cheap seats and then washing their hands in regards to responsibility to passenger’s safety.

  6. Frontier’s target customer base is people who either cannot or will not pay the higher prices of AA, UA, etc. The former do not have much choice in which airline they fly, the latter are pinching pennies. Only some of each are complaining. Those subsets are deeply offended at what they perceive to be yet another fee which other airlines don’t charge. That perception may or may not be true, but that’s what they perceive.

    Both are being unreasonably offended that they cannot travel in the manner they feel they should be able to. I have no sympathy for either. If you have essential reasons to fly, you’re going to pay what you need (and it will be covered as a business cost). If you don’t have an essential reason to fly, don’t.

    I have difficulty picturing a scenario where this kind of fee could prevent a truly essential trip.

  7. I think the point is that there has to be some sort of scientific evaluation of how safe passengers are – not just for now, but as people return to work.

    Do we trust IATA, who only a day or two ago said masks were effective, but empty seats were not? Do we trust the flight attendants, who have been arguing for masks on passengers for weeks? Do we trust the airlines? Do we trust the Trump Administration?

    If I were an airline, I’d want to keep those seats empty, just like Delta. We need to be convinced that we can safely fly, and demand is not going to increase at ANY point until we are of the belief that our risk is minimal. Empty seats are a good business decision, regardless of the loss of revenue.

  8. This “woe is me” mantra of the airlines is a load of crap. They have been raping the flying public for years with ever escalating -1) name change fees, 2) flight change fees, 3) rip off baggage fees, 4) seating fees, all the while cramming more and smaller seats on the airplanes. Flying used to be enjoyable – now it is a time consuming pain that continues to only get worse. And with all of these money grabbing fees, they have the audacity to crow about how inexpensive flying is compared to yesterday.

  9. If demand for flights is so low, these planes aren’t 2/3 full. Just don’t sell the middle seats. No need to charge a fee or raise prices. No revenue is being lost. They’re absolutely rightfully being shamed, and if the “political point” you think the Senators were making is that price-gouging is bad, then I like their politics. This is a really, really bad take, Ben.

  10. @ John — This simply isn’t true. Airlines have greatly reduced capacity to better align with demand, and in many cases we are now seeing flights significantly more than two thirds full. So for those situations where flights are full (which is quite common), what would you like airlines to do?

  11. The real problem is that to social distance on a flight you should only have passengers in every second, or third, row. Selling an empty middle seat, under the guise of social distancing, is a futile gesture if there’s somebody sat less than two feet to your left, right directly behind or in front of you.

    What Frontier are ultimately selling is European business class.

  12. I’m with @David. Raise airline fares 50% to pay for blocked seats.

    Long before COVID-19 I was fed-up with the fact that every single onboard amenity has one-by-one been removed so airlines can continue to charge the lowest fares possible.

    When flying was more expensive, it was actually pleasant – even in coach. Space to move around the cabin. Sufficient pitch to ensure seats didn’t recline into your face. Complimentary meals served by less-harried crews. A generally contented onboard vibe. But for more than a decade flying has become a mostly miserable experience. (It’s no surprise why Lucky is seldom seen sitting on the ‘wrong side of the curtain’.)

    I’d happily pay 50% more to fly an improved, more spacious coach. It would be cheaper for me than flying up-front, which is what I do now because I can’t tolerate conditions in the back.

  13. @Billy Bob

    demand is unlikely to fully recover anytime in the next couple of years.

    In the next couple of years there can be even more demand for flying than before COVID.

  14. CDC Recommendation is 6 feet away to maintain proper distancing. A blocked middle seat in a aisle-middle-window setup means you’re at most 1.5 ft away from the other guy. With a 28″ pitch, you’re less than 2.5 ft” away from the guy in front or in the back.

  15. Eventually, I want to fly again. I am willing to buy 6 seats. 9 may be too expensive. I hope airlines will let me.

  16. But the argument of “one seat isn’t six feet” is a false one.

    The reality is that SOME distance is better than NO distance; 1 foot apart is better than three inches apart, and 3 feet apart is better than 1 foot, and eight feet is safer than six feet, especially if there’s a sneeze.

    The point is to REDUCE risk, not remove it. Adding a mask to 5 feet is better than six feet with no mask. The CDC’s guidelines are very clear on this, with the 6 foot number being solely used as a recommendation to reduce risk. It does not REMOVE risk.

    So I’ll take one seat between me and my seatmate rather than having his / her cheeks squashed against my own.

  17. I thought what Frontier was offering was a great idea. Most carriers are only committed to blocking middle seats subject to low loads. With schedules being cut more and more, flights are getting full again. Offering people a GUARANTEE of a blocked middle seat is far better than the “you might get one.” Calling this profiting from safety is like arguing that stores should be giving away supplies of masks, hand sanitizer etc. instead of charging for it.

    I don’t agree with the idea of simply raising fares by 50%. At least a seat fee is fixed. Paying 50% extra on a $30 fare would be great; paying 50% extra on a $300 last minute fare would be a huge burden on most travelers.

  18. The concept of social distancing on an aircraft is ridiculous.

    Ok if you are in business or first class on a wide bodied jet perhaps.

    If you are in economy, forget it

    It’s difficult enough in a huge supermarket

    There are so many things to consider – payload , weather , emergencies such as a sick customer , people going to the toilet. Is only one person permitted to visit ? Will the crew monitor and not permit anyone to stand up until the person occupying returned to their seat ? Walking to stretch your legs

  19. I seem to recall the airlines getting bailed out. Why can’t they afford to block middle seats until September then? Investors need more money?

  20. @ Daniel — Investors aren’t making any money right now. If the bailout money was intended for middle seats to be empty, why wasn’t that included as a condition of the CARES Act, as were so many other things?

  21. Until there is a vaccine flying should be a non-starter. How do you social distance when people need to go to the bathroom? How do you do it when people rush to get off the plane? As far as airlines go, there should not be another dime for these guys. There should have been nothing in the first place. All airlines (save WN) treat us like garbage. Lets return the favor. If there has to be loans and bailouts then only WN should get anything. Oh you say what about the airline employees who will be laid off? Millions have already been whacked, what makes airline employees special?

  22. Yeah probably true on both points. Well, I do think Congress didn’t realize how the airlines would try to poke every hole possible in their legislation. They should have of course, given that private industry does that all the time. Also Frontier is an LCC which charge a fee for everything, so it is in character anyway.

    The thing is, airlines need to gain the trust of the public in a way almost never before seen. Trying to charge fees so you can get some distance between you and the person next to you, especially when the pandemic is still raging, isn’t the way to do it.

  23. “mostly about peace of mind”

    Put another way, people are terrible assessors of risk.

    The safest move now is not to travel, and the reason not to travel is to prevent asymptomatic spread even if you are not personally likely to suffer or die even if you did catch the virus.

    But if you have to travel, if everyone on the plane is wearing masks (ideally N95) to minimize spread, even on a full flight you are probably safer than driving on a fatalities per passenger mile basis.

    Though with fewer cars on the road, driving fatalities are probably down also. And you’d have to factor in non-compliance with mask wearing on the plane in and in airports, and the lack of sufficient asymptomatic testing and contact tracing in the US.

    An open middle, paid or not, is not going to make a meaningful difference when you are talking about potential aerosol transmission from an asymptomatic spreader over hours at a gate and then on a plane.

  24. @ Asdf

    Requiring masks for all passengers works well too for minimizing risk. But probably worth mentioning that the blocked middle seat prevents the person in the middle from easily spitting on neighboring tray table when eating.

  25. I have always felt like complaining about ancillary fees was nothing but moronic. They can, and SHOULD, do whatever they want. If there was a practical way to make it safe, the government should regulate it. But there isn’t, so just accept the crapshoot of flying right now and mooooove on.

  26. How come I don’t see these Senators do anything to stop the virus, where were these people in February?

    Instead you are deciding for the public and take away our choices. (so much for democracy)
    Before, I could choose to buy an extra layer of protection or save money and take some other preventive methods.
    Now I have no choice but to pay 50% more for my ticket. Yes dear Senator, do you think they won’t raise the prices? I guess the AOC virus has spread to the senate. Social distancing can’t stop this virus which mutates your brain cell to have a logic of an 8 year old.

  27. Flying has to be profitable for airlines, unless you want them to be perpetual loss-making entities propped up by governments. Before deregulation, prices were much higher and service was obviously better. Price is the main factor by which companies compete, and the consumer has shown time and time again that it cares more about price than any other factor. If you want to have a more comfortable flying experience, you are going to have to pay more, either for premium service as offered freely by the airlines or through higher rates mandated by the state. The flying cheapskates and kettles aren’t going to like either option. To provide space for social distancing on flights, airlines would have to operate every flight at a loss unless prices were raised drastically, but that is not going to fill up the demand curve. Want or need space? Fly private. No one is entitled to spacious accommodation on a plane unless he pays for it. In any case, the risk of getting infected on a plane is very low, especially if prophylactic measures are taken. It would be nice if Raymond Wang’s global inlet director were put into use.

  28. I fly Frontier regularly. I enjoy the discounted pricing and no-frills service. I’m good with ala-carte pricing. If I want an empty middle seat, I will pay for it. These airlines are not non-profits. They need to have a business model that makes financial sense. I’m not flying now, but if I were, I’d pay for the guaranteed empty seat.

  29. “Just raise the fare 50% across the board and block the middle seat.” What is the basis for the 50% you guys are proposing? Is it based on anything other than a number pulled out of the air?

  30. Yes, they should block all middle seats for “free.” Let’s be real, every essential business that’s stayed open and those that are opening up have to have plans for continued physical distancing or risk getting shut down, even essential businesses, even my hospital. Many of my colleagues have had to fly to provide healthcare in needed areas. It’s awfully hard to go from being physically distanced in every aspect of life to suddenly inches from someone. It’s not safe.

  31. If some psgrs truly want more room perhaps they should rethink rethink the idea. Create a new business class cabin w/x# of seats like they offer on most airlines in the E.U. – everything inclusive in the price. Now though would probably not begood time to introduce that product

  32. Thanks all! I was really missing flying until I read this thread. Now I am not in such a hurry anymore.

    When it’s safe or I absolutely have to, I’ll fly again and not before (and then in pre booked First).

  33. Spirit is blocking middle seats and not charging people for it. Frontier could do the same. They deserve the bad publicity.

  34. LOL… they’re retract their middle-seat policy.. yet they announced $11 fares… let’s pack those jets… idiots.

  35. @Mike

    What is the basis for the 50% you guys are proposing? Is it based on anything other than a number pulled out of the air?

    You really don’t know or even try to guess huh?
    Never mind let me spoon feed you.

    Frontier airplanes have seating of 3-3 or OOO OOO or 6 seats per row.
    Frontier blocks middle seat so it becomes OXO OXO or 4 seats per row.
    With original 6 seats Frontier sell at average price of $100 each for a total of $600.
    Now with 4 seats Frontier needs to sell at $150 each to maintain a total of $600.

    So a price jump from $100 to $150 is the basis for 50%. It’s all simple math not magic tricks pulling stuff out of the air.

  36. The saddest part is that flight attendants are paying the consequences. Passengers yelling at them because they want to sit in premium cabins and exit rows without paying the extra fee. Social distancing is one thing, and asking for a free upgrade and yell at the flight attendants is a totally different thing. Then complaining because the airline charge them for their carry on and because inflight service was not provided, only water. I was a witness. The passenger took pictures of the flight attendants without their consent and then threated to report them and post the pictures on social media. I think Frontier came up with a great idea. Airlines are looking to fill up those planes as soon as possible. Frontier did the right thing. Even paying the fee and $11 for your ticket is way more cheaper than the other airlines. People will always find an excuse to complain. Airlines are not charity.

  37. Dave – who thinks WN is the best….You must work for them…So you love the cattle call, the roaming up and down the aisle to look for a seat and with no assigned seats there is NO guarantee that the middle seat won’t be occupied…What do you say to the person who decides to block the entire row by sitting in that middle seat. essentially grabbing three seats when paid for one and you can’t sit there…unless you are going to tell the passenger to move over..thus ensuing a possible altercation….you probably won’t get any type of service,,even before the crisis, if you were on an hour or so flight there was no service,,,also, you pay for everything on WN,,yes included those precious supposed “Free” bags” if you look closely at your invoice it states “Baggage Excise Fee”… so essentially you are paying for people who use it or don’t use it.

    If you are going to make an intelligent comment, exclude your bias of one particular airline…they are not the end all. Every airline is unique to its customer. After you gain the ownership of an airline and try to navigate through all of this, then come back here and tell us how you would do it. We can’t even imagine how much goes into running an airline..Yes there was a “Bailout” but there were so many restrictions that the money that could be used to enhance services for the future is being taken up by ordering certain flights to be flown even if no one wants to go there.

    Thank you for the was much appreciated…and I agree,,,what to people want…

  38. L— Not speaking for Dave – your posting is asinine. I have flown Southwest for over 30 years and have never had a problem. The fares are cheaper than any of the other legacy airlines. No name or flight change fees, ever. Cancelling flights is easy and your funds are good to use on another future flight for 1 year. If you have and use “points” to book a flight and then cancel, the points go back to your account and are good forever to use at a later date. Cattle call? What a joke. You can choose ANY available seat, even if others try to “save a seat” – but most Southwest flyers are understanding if one is trying to save a seat, and on Southwest you don’t have to pay for a seat selection. Service on a one hour flight -, you get drink service on every flight. The “you pay for everything on Southwest” comment – what does that mean? You pay for your ticket, if you want to board early ( to find a seat that is not a middle seat) there is a small fee, you pay for your drinks. You do not pay for the first 2 bags, no rip-off there. The cabin crews are always helpful and knowledgeable -not like several other legacy airlines. I don’t work for Southwest and have never been disappointed in any flight I have ever taken. Your condescending “guidelines for replying” are nothing but insulting. I will continue to always fly Southwest, they are the best.

  39. David Miller. I appreciate the fact you love Southwest and I do not have an issue with that…what I was referring to is this statement. “There should have been nothing in the first place. All airlines (save WN) treat us like garbage. Lets return the favor. If there has to be loans and bailouts then only WN should get anything”

    The fact is all airlines are suffering. That me rephrase that. All business are suffering but to blatantly say only one should get money. that is what is assinine. In actuality it was the choice of the airlines if they wanted the bailout. This issue will continue to be a bit topic with mud slinging , favoritism of businesses….what you stated about cabin crew being helpful I am sure every flight attendant on every airline does this. Yes including the legacies….all points you stated about refunding, cancelling , points are available on all airlines in different ways,,,Southwest does not have the corner on that….

    Again i appreciate the ability to state an opinion. Yours and mine. Like in all aspects of this crisis emotions run high,. Words are said sometimes the wrong or misconstrued ones..but all of us are in this together,,,how may times has this been said,. I am sure Southwest is happy to have you as a customer,. But the other airlines are just as good and maybe better in some areas. Have a great day…fly safe

  40. L- the “different ways” you speak about on other airlines concerning refunding and cancellations “may be available in different ways” – for normally huge, unconscionable fee. Not so on Southwest. “Free” is the key word here. In rebuttal, “every flight attendant on every airline does this” is an out and out lie. There are numerous documented horror stories about the hateful, surly attendants on several of the legacy airlines. But I digress. You have the right, as long as you can afford to, to fly any airline you wish. I choose Southwest because I know what I am getting and I have never been disappointed.

  41. I think the fact that the bailout money was to keep folks employed has been left out. Do we really need those folks added to the unemployment rate. Frontier was not forcing anyone to pay the fee for the extra seat. If you want that as an option for yourself you should be allowed.

  42. we pay for extra legroom, we pay for exit row, we pay for seat assignment, why not have the option to pay for a blocked middle seat. it happens in business class in Europe essentially, so I think this is actually a really good option/opportunity. those who cant afford business, PE, etc could at least have a bit extra room on their flight….

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