Frontier Airlines has abruptly abandoned plans to charge $39+ for customers to buy up empty middle seats. Why? Heavy criticism and bad optics.
Recall from our discussion earlier this week that any expectation of an open middle seat is too great an expectation. As travelers slowly begin to return while airlines maintain reduced flight schedules, planes will fill up…including middle seats.
When that happens, the question becomes who should benefit from the few remaining open middle seats? Luck of the draw? Those who paid more? Frontier Airlines, being a budget carrier grasping for new revenue streams, decided to sell remaining middle seats starting at $39. The final price would depend upon the length of the flight and how busy the flight was.
But after making media rounds yesterday to tout the new ancillary offer, Frontier CEO Barry Biffle told a handful of Congressional members last night it would not proceed with the new program on Friday, as planned. Biffle said:
“We recognize the concerns raised that we are profiting from safety and this was never our intent. We simply wanted to provide our customers with an option for more space. We will leave the seats blocked which were associated with this product and honor purchases made by all customers who bought the product up until now.”
That’s a quite different tune from yesterday, when Biffle told the Denver Post:
“We continue to see a lot of feedback from customers that say ‘OK, I get it, I see that I’m safe but I’d just like a little more peace of mind,’ so we have offered this product, this guaranteed middle seat open.”
Many accused Frontier of trying to profit off people’s safety fears. Biffle again dismissed that charge:
“We offer the lowest total prices in the United States. Period. So we are not profiteering off customers at all. We don’t know how much real demand there is for this. And it’s a little like a belt and suspenders, because, again, we believe you are safe on Frontier without this.”
Offering lowest total prices has nothing necessarily to do with profiting off safety. But that statement doesn’t pass the smell test. Spirit Airlines would have been honest about it…
It merits mentioning here that you can ALWAYS ensure the middle seat is open on your flight by buying a second seat. In that sense, I don’t see what the big problem was in Frontier trying to offer that service at a discount. Sure, a few extra inches of spacing between passengers may be marginally safer and certainly more comfortable, but the notion that Frontier was putting passengers at greater risk is simply absurd.
In any case, Frontier expects its aircraft to be full again soon. Biffle said:
“It’s not going to be long before airplanes are full again. Our plan is to have our entire fleet back in the air in July and all of our destinations should be served.”
That may be more wishful thinking than drumming up ancillary revenue by scaring people into buying the middle seat next to them that would likely remain open anyway…
What are your thoughts on the nixed Frontier Airlines middle seat sale?