Kate Cox

A passenger jet with the word Frontier emblazoned on it lifts off.
Enlarge / A Frontier plane landing back in 2016, when sitting crammed next to other passengers was still deeply unpleasant but didn’t feel as potentially life-threatening.

With schools and businesses closed, conferences and conventions canceled, and travel restrictions in effect, very few of us are flying anywhere at the moment. States and countries are already slowly starting to bring themselves back online, though, and eventually, travel with pick up again—at least, to some degree.

But commercial airplanes tend to be essentially airborne sardine cans, in which germ-filled passengers are packed horrifyingly close together, all breathing the same recirculated air. For those who do have to travel, or who are planning to in the rest of 2020, prudence seems advisable. Passengers should wear masks, and airlines can help keep spacing between them by reducing capacity and leaving narrow, overcrowded seats empty for the time being.

No two airlines are handling the uncertain future in quite the same way. Frontier Airlines, though, is going all in on the industry’s worst nickel-and-diming impulses and is happy to let you gain a few precious inches of space from your neighbor and their bodily fluids—for an additional fee.

Frontier touts the new charge as the “more room” pledge. “While we believe the best measure to keep everyone healthy is to require face coverings, for those who want an empty seat next to them for extra peace of mind or simply additional comfort, we are now offering ‘More Room,'” Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said in a written statement.

The extra fee for a guaranteed empty middle seat will be between $39 and $89, depending on the route. It will be in effect starting this Friday and run at least through the end of August, if not later. Frontier is also requiring face coverings for all passengers in the gate area as well as aboard aircraft, and it will be implementing mandatory hand-washing and health screenings before boarding.

Every other major US airline is also mandating face coverings for passengers, but none of them is as yet charging passengers for trying to avoid being breathed on. American has blocked off half of the middle seats on its flights. Alaska is blocking off all of them. Delta is not only blocking bookings for middle seats but is also blocking off seats in other configurations to space passengers out more effectively. JetBlue limits seats sold and “reviews seat assignments [prior to flight] to ensure as much personal space as possible.” Southwest, which does not assign seats to passengers, has reduced the number of tickets sold per flight so that all middle seats can remain unoccupied after boarding.

Spirit Airlines, which like Frontier is an ultra-low-cost carrier and is known for charging passengers even for carry-on baggage, says it will leave middle seats vacant “when possible.”



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