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Thursday, 7 May 2020

Frontier Airlines abandons plan to charge social distance fee that would guarantee empty middle seat

In this April 23, 2020 photo a Frontier Airlines jetliner taxis to a runway for take off from Denver International Airport in Denver. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill lashed out Wednesday, May 6, 2020 against Frontier Airlines over the budget carrier's move to charge passengers extra to guarantee they will sit next to an empty middle seat while flying during the coronavirus outbreak.
In this April 23, 2020 photo a Frontier Airlines jetliner taxis to a runway for take off from Denver International Airport in Denver. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill lashed out Wednesday, May 6, 2020 against Frontier Airlines over the budget carrier's move to charge passengers extra to guarantee they will sit next to an empty middle seat while flying during the coronavirus outbreak.(David Zalubowski/AP)

Frontier airlines has abandoned its plans to charge passengers a social distancing fee, which would guarantee a flight with an empty middle seat, following backlash from leaders and lawmakers.

Amid traveler concerns about the spread of coronavirus on airplanes, Frontier on Monday unveiled its “More Room” option. The $39 upgrade would ensure at least one seat remain open between passengers for trips booked from May 8 through Aug. 31.

Criticism was swift following the proposed up charge, with the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Peter DeFazio, slamming it as “outrageous," according to ABC News.

“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,” he said.

On Wednesday, democratic lawmakers Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn, and Rep. Jesus Garcia, D-Ill, echoed the sentiment in a letter to Frontier CEO Barry Biffle.

“The flying public should not be charged extra to stay healthy on flights,” they wrote, pointing to other airlines blocking off middle seats at no cost.

Biffle in response, wrote a letter telling lawmakers Frontier would not move forward with its plan, developed to make customers feel safer amid the global pandemic.


“We recognize the concerns raised that we are profiting from safety and that was never our intent. We simply wanted to provide our customers with an option for more space," he wrote.


Air passenger numbers have dropped more than 90 percent in the seven weeks since coronavirus prompted travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders. But Biffle in his note said Frontier was starting to see its planes reach capacity again.


“Social distancing becomes more problematic as flights fill up and, therefore, we chose to require face masks for everyone," he continued. "While we believe this ensures safety, we knew some customers wanted more peace of mind and therefore we introduced the More Room product that guaranteed an empty middle seat.”


The International Air Transportation on Tuesday said it supports mandatory face covers but would not mandate social distancing be implemented aboard planes, according to ABC.


“Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is low,” the agency said in a press release. “Mask-wearing by passengers and crew will reduce the already low risk, while avoiding the dramatic cost increases to air travel that onboard social distancing measures would bring.”

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