Frontier backtracks on physical distance fee following congressional uproar

May 7, 2020

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Some chalked it up to “Frontier being Frontier,” but some members of Congress shared some harsher criticism for Frontier’s new “More Room” product that allowed passengers to secure an empty middle seat — for an additional fee.

“Frontier’s decision to charge passengers to keep middle seats empty is capitalizing on fear and passengers’ well-founded concerns for their health and safety,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) said in a press release. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chair later called the move “callous profiteering,” and insisted that executives rethink their strategy.

Also on Wednesday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) penned a letter to Frontier CEO Barry Biffle, sharing similar concerns about the new fee. “Essential travelers are already risking their health, and they should not be penalized with an additional ancillary fee to practice social distancing to the best of their ability. While your competitors such as Delta Airlines [stet] have rightfully decided to block off middle seats without a charge to passengers, Frontier Airlines has made the bewildering decision to punish the very customers it needs most.”

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While the new fee largely went unnoticed, during a week otherwise filled to the brim with coronavirus-related news, Congress brought broad attention to Frontier’s More Room fee, prompting the airline to quickly reverse course.

CEO Barry Biffle responded with a letter of his own, explaining:

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. However, we will rescind the seat price increase associated with the More Room product and revert to our former seat assignment pricing. 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. Further, we will continue to be consistent with the broader industry and make best efforts to ensure as much social distancing as possible throughout the aircraft.

The airline has indeed lowered its pricing for seats formerly branded as More Room, and has left the adjacent seats blocked as well. For example, you would have paid $89 for a “Stretch” seat earlier this week:

More: With 95% of flyers grounded, what it’s like flying in the U.S. right now?

That same seat is pricing at $60 today:

In his letter to Congress, Biffle also acknowledged that Frontier’s load factors have exceeded 50% this week, and are even higher for future bookings, pointing out that “social distancing becomes more problematic as flights fill up.”

Even without More Room, since the airline will continue to block adjacent seats, it could certainly be worth the extra cost for a pre-assigned Stretch or Standard seat, adding a bit more separation onboard.

Featured photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy.

Related: 11 Things I Learned From My First Flights on Frontier

 

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