Through August 31 Frontier Airlines is offering customers the option of paying for an empty middle seat, priced at $39. This is being compared to other airlines blocking middle seats for free. However that’s not a fair comparison. And all of the criticism over the airline for ‘charging for safety’ makes no sense.
There are two basic points here in defense of Frontier. First, an empty middle seat isn’t protection anyway so why require it? Second, why make everyone pay for that extra space instead of just allowing those people who are reassured by it to pay?
An empty middle seat is not protection. In 2003 22 cases of SARS are thought to have come from a single Boeing 737 flight indeed,
[T]he risk for those in the three rows in front of the man pwho had SARS], or the same row, was much higher than for those sitting elsewhere. But two people seated as far as seven rows in front of him were also infected, as were two flight attendants.
— 💀 damned sinker 💀 (@dansinker) April 28, 2020
Having a foot and a half of space between you and someone else isn’t six feet, and it doesn’t help you if the person in the row behind you (or two) coughs.
There’s a limited amount of space on the aircraft, and fixed costs for flying that plane. If one passenger takes up space they either need to pay for that extra space or everyone has to pay for it. Frontier’s strategy is to make the cost optional, rather than mandatory for everyone. For a decision that’s more about personal comfort than safety it doesn’t seem appropriate to mandate everyone pay.
I’d made several other points about this.
- $39 is a really good price, considering most tickets cost more than that. Frontier is willing to sell customers that empty middle and risk not selling a ticket at full price (and collect all those sweet sweet ancillary fees from another passenger).
- American Airlines will only limit the number of passengers on each flight through May 31 and only rolled that out on Thursday. Prior to that they blocked middle seats, but wouldn’t cap the number of passengers, so if they sold enough tickets on a flight they’d unblock those seats at the gate. A Frontier Airlines guarantee is better even if it comes at a price.
- Airlines have sold extra seats to passengers for years, but that’s at regular price. $39 is a nice discount in most cases.
Copyright: zhukovsky / 123RF Stock Photo
Back in mid-March I suggested that giving elite frequent flyers empty middle seats would be a great benefit. That’s space available, though I’d probably pay $39 to confirm an empty middle on a flight over 2 hours anyway.