Frontier Airlines announced that their 156 Airbus planes on order, which begin delivering in March, will receive Recaro’s slimline SL3710 seats. That’s not surprising. Frontier Airlines is owned by Indigo Partners which announced last August that its portfolio of airlines would together order 100,000 SL3710 seats.
Credit: Frontier Airlines
Indigo controls Frontier and Chile’s JetSmart, as well as stakes in Volaris and Wizz Air. Indigo’s Bill Franke is Chairman of both Wizz Air and Frontier, and preceded Doug Parker as Chairman and CEO of America West Airlines. He’s the former Chairman of Spirit Airlines.
Slimline seats are known for passenger discomfort. They have less padding, and therefore take up less space. That lets airlines squeeze more passengers into the same amount of space. It’s become common in the industry, and airlines like United and American use slimmed down economy seating.
What’s special about Frontier’s claim (and Wizz Air’s before them) is that they’re doing it for the environment. Take out all that padding, provide less support, and the seat weighs less which means planes carrying the seats burn less fuel.
Of course using slimline seats means squeezing in passengers. Ultra low cost carriers controlled by Indigo are all about carrying as many passengers as possible at low fares. Passengers have weight, too so using seating that accommodates more passengers means more total weight on the plane and there more fuel burn.
Frontier promotes themselves as America’s Greenest Airline, a neat twist on customer-unfriendly moves. For instance,
- “Bye bye big TVs” by taking away seat back television, Frontier saves weight and therefore fuel. It’s the same reason when America West took over US Airways they took away seat power from planes that already had it. (Frontier has no outlets for passengers, either.)
- “Carry on less” by charging for carry on bags, people bring less on board. Of course much of that is pushed to checked baggage, so not saving weight. Though some passengers do pack lighter, saving fuel.
- “Paperless entertainment” they promote that there’s no inflight magazine.
- Smaller tray tables “We redesigned our tray tables to cut weight from our planes. Now they’re the perfect size for your smartphone or tablet.” Although these new seats they’re promoting will have “larger tray tables versus earlier designs” so maybe not so green!
- Seats don’t recline so they require fewer parts and weigh marginally less.
- They carry fewer refreshments since they don’t need enough for everyone, only water is free and everything else they charge for.
The environment matters, commercial airline emissions (about 2% of world total in a normal year) matter, but surely investing in direct carbon capture is an approach consumers can prefer? Of course United Airlines is both using slimline seats (bad) and investing in carbon capture (good) so there’s balance, too.