The ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines isn’t passing up the COVID-19 pandemic for an opportunity to bolster its ancillary revenues with plans to charge people more money if they want to practice social distancing on one of its planes. Frontier will soon be allowing passengers to book an empty middle seat next them starting from $39 – or what it calls a ‘More Room’ seat.
The Denver-based airline says up to 18 seats will be made available for booking and is one of a “wide variety of other initiatives aimed at achieving the highest levels of passenger well-being and comfort.” In recent weeks, there’s been increasing discussion as to whether social distancing on planes is either possible or fiancially feasible.
Air New Zealand led the way in blocking middle seats in order to enforce social distancing and some U.S. airlines have followed… but only when passengers loads are low enough that middle seats don’t need to be used. In Europe, the low-cost airline easyJet suggested it would block the middle seat when it restarts flights, while its biggest competitor Ryanair scoffed at the idea.
Lufthansa initially started blocking seats on short-haul flights but has now dropped that idea in favour of the mandatory wearing of face masks. The airline said that face masks were far more effective than socially distancing by blocking the middle seat.
“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,’ seats” Frontier’s Chief executive Barry Biffle said on Monday.
The middle seats will become available for booking from May 8 through August 31 – although that timeframe could be extended according to a company spokesperson. Frontier has required its flight crews to wear face masks since April 13 and this policy will be extended to passengers on May 8 as well.
In addition, the airline is asking passengers to take their temperature before travelling to the airport and to stay at home if they or anyone in their household as COVID-19 symptoms. The requirement pushes the responsibility to carry out screening on the individual rather than the airline or airport.
Frontier passengers will also be made to sign a health declaration that they will wash and sanitize their hands during their flight.
Expect more social distancing fees to come to more airlines in the very near future.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.