Frontier Airlines Promises New, Uncomfortable Seat Will Be Good For The Environment

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.

Credit: Recaro

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Maybe they should remove the free travel for airline personnel. That will save some fuel as well.

  2. Continuing that mindset, they should just remove seats all together and make everyone stand, cattle car style, during the flight. They can pack in passengers shoulder to shoulder so that the people around you provide some cushioning in case of an accident.

  3. Yes. Nothing says we love the environment like removing 1,000 pounds of seat cushion to replace it with 2,500 pounds of additional passengers. This is why I hate corporate America. Everything they say and “support” is fake PR and everyone see right through it.

  4. @Mike – That’s not the issue here. Frontier is trying to sell all of these moves that suck for the customer as being “eco friendly” because it sounds better than the airline saying they don’t give a damn about passengers. If your taxi or Uber dropped you off a mile from home and you had to slog the rest of the way with luggage in the rain, that would likewise be technically good for the environment. Would that be okay?

  5. The environment is just a way to sell the changes. These changes maximize profits first and environmental benefits are ancillary.

  6. ‘“Paperless entertainment” they promote that there’s no inflight magazine.” – lol – this works until the battery on your personal device dies due to no power ports to recharge them.

    I will say this in Frontier’s defense…..while it is true that reducing the weight of seats is offset by adding more human weight on the plane, it translates into less weight per person transported.

  7. This is a well written article and at the same time I have never read a more disgusting article. I understand this is an economy airline but I would rather pay a few more dollars to fly than to be even more uncomfortable than I already am.

  8. OneXMarine,

    If you are jealous (which you blatantly are) quit your job and get one with an airline, its clearly one of the well known benefits. Most crewmembers use that benefit getting to and from work, because of constantly shifting bases and flying it makes more sense to both the crewmembers and the company compared to relocating every year or two.

  9. Gary – you make sure a big deal out of stuff like this and all your lemmings follow suit with the comments! First of all I have around 8 million miles and have been traveling extensively since mid 80s. I’m lifetime Platinum on AA and Gold on DL (both with around 3 million miles each) so now that I’m retired I fly who I want and don’t need to chase status. Frontier has some really cheap short flights (1 1/2 hour or less) that make sense for me. I understand their product and how to minimize any fees beyond the basic fare. Also, I have no problem with a “less comfortable'” seat for under 2 hours. Are Americans so fat and coddled that something like this is a priority? REALLY? BTW I’ve flown mainly first and international business class throughout my career so certainly understand the difference in airline products.

    Final comment – I LOVE that the seats don’t recline. I hope all airlines put seats in coach that don’t recline to get beyond the stupid fights over reclining seats. I can understand on a long red-eye flight but does ANYONE really need to recline a seat for a 1-2 hour flight during the day? I think not!

  10. Just got back from a 4 hour Frontier flight. I am trying my best to think of one nice thing to say. It was a disappointment in every way. The plane was absolutely filthy. The flight attendants were crabby and all looked like they rolled out of bed and came straight to work. One was a large woman and constantly ran into people sitting in the aisle seats. It reminded me of the scene in Airplane when the flight attendant hit everyone with the guitar as she walked up the aisle – only this was her hips. The coffee was $3.25 and tasted like Pine Sol. All announcements were completely inaudible and the flight attendant told a woman she needed to listen better when she asked what was said a second time. My bag was damaged and won’t close properly now. Add to that, we were an hour and a half late with no explanation – no more Frontier flights for me!

  11. Uncomfortable to the max. I will not fly them again. Your greed cost you a regular customer. I rather pay uber more and leave from Fort Lauderdale than Miami.

  12. You know AA flyer you sound like a moron. I had a family member pass away and the only affordable flight is this fee ridden malicious company. The good news is you represent the airlines and they know eventually someone may need to fly in fact I think they bank on family tragedies and then to hear how miserable the flight will be.

  13. Yah saving a buck on crappy uncomfortable seats, so they can fly me from portland to San Fran with a layover hundreds of miles out of the way in friggin denver. This is why I friggin hate flying and rather drive. I don’t fly on my dime in 10yrs. EVER. I might even stop letting people fly me. The airports are crap, no smoking area without having to come back through security is crap, tsa is crap… cause who knows, maybe my sealed makeup remover might be a bomb (friggin idiots) the entire experience from top to bottom the moment you enter the airport to the moment you get to your destination and into a car is ttotal crap. And they wonder why people get aggressively ticked off and end up on the news….If someone wants to pay to fly me out, fine, I’ll guess, but I never use my own dime for flying anymore..

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