Frontier Airlines drops plans to charge passengers to keep their distance

Frontier Airlines dropped plans to charge extra for folks who want to keep their distance from fellow passengers on flights.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Frontier Airlines is dropping plans to charge passengers extra to sit next to an empty middle seat after congressional Democrats accused the airline of trying to profit from fear over the new coronavirus, according to the Associated Press.

“We recognize the concerns raised that we are profiting from safety and this was never our intent,” Chief Executive Barry Biffle said late Wednesday in a letter to three lawmakers. “We simply wanted to provide our customers with an option for more space.” Biffle said the airline will rescind the extra fee, which Frontier called More Room, and simply block the seats from being sold.

The carrier had planned to generate revenue on the empty seats, charging from $39 to $89 depending on the route. It would have offered 18 More Room assignments on each flight, spokeswoman Jennifer De La Cruz said Monday.

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Frontier also is imposing a face-covering mandate for passengers starting Friday to help guard against the spread of the virus, along with a “health requirement” customers must accept before they can check in for a flight.

As part of that new system, Frontier travelers must check their temperature, attest that neither they nor anyone in their household has exhibited COVID-19 related symptoms for 14 days and wash their hands or use sanitizer before boarding a flight on Denver-based Frontier, which is owned by private equity firm Indigo Partners LLC.

Large carriers such as American Airlines and Delta Air Lines say they’ve begun blocking many middle seats to promote greater distance among passengers. The airlines don’t guarantee a middle seat will be unoccupied and they generally may assign them as needed.

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Last week, American said it would sell only half the middle seats available in its economy cabin, though it will assign those seats when necessary. Southwest Airlines Co. is also limiting its seat sales to promote greater spacing but did not specify by how much.

Ultra low-cost airlines such as Frontier, Spirit Airlines and Ryanair generally need to sell more of their seats to break even than do larger airlines that have more frills that generate revenue and generally higher fares.


Last month, Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said his airline, which has suspended most of its flights, would not resume operating if government regulators require empty middle seats that can’t be sold.


9:27 a.m. May 7, 2020: Update: Frontier Airines scrapped its plan to charge a little extra to allow fliers to social distance.