The One Airline That’s Actually Improving The Middle Seat
Photo Courtesy Frontier Airlines
Tired of trying to wedge yourself into a middle seat? Frontier Airlines may have solved your problem.
The airline, known for its bargain fares and bare-bones service, is installing new seats that give passengers in the middle an extra inch of width compared to what they’d get next to the window or aisle. The new 19-inch-wide seats are the broadest flying in the U.S., according to Frontier. And despite the carrier’s reputation for extra fees for just about everything, including drinks and carry-on bags, they don't plan to charge more for the additional space.
"This will make sitting in the middle seat a little less uncomfortable," says Daniel Shurz, Frontier's chief commercial officer.
Of course, there’s a catch: The new seats are more tightly packed than the ones they replace—and they're skinnier too, with a little less padding than you'll find on many major airlines. With only 28 inches of pitch, passengers will now have two fewer inches between a point on their seat and the same point on the seat in front of them. But Frontier says the new chairs are "pre-reclined,” meaning there's no need to worry about the person in front of you leaning back. The airline's president, Barry Biffle, calls it a "built-in knee guard." (Extra legroom seats in Frontier’s "Stretch" section, its pricier premium economy offering, still permit recline, and they have extra padding as well as lumbar support.)
Frontier’s experiment with the new cabin layout—the airline is adding 12 seats to each of its Airbus A320s and A319s this year—is part of a broader makeover for the airline. Once a quirky full-service carrier admired for its personalized service and on-board televisions, Frontier is now an ultra low cost carrier, more akin to Spirit Airlines or EasyJet than American, Delta, or United. Base fares are cheap—Chicago-Orlando costs $138 roundtrip, Washington, D.C. to Las Vegas is $178—but the airline has to pack in passengers to make money. So while United has just 150 seats on an A320, Frontier puts 180 on its version of the plane.
"The cost of operating an airplane is basically the same no matter how many seats you put on it," Shurz says. "We are spreading the cost of operating the airplane across more seats."
More changes are coming. As soon as next year, Frontier is expected to be the first U.S. airline flying a 186-seat A320. But adding those extra six seats shouldn't require a further reduction in legroom. Airbus recently discovered it could sneak an extra row onto the A320 by moving the bathrooms further aft on the aircraft, where most airlines build a large galley. Since Frontier doesn't serve much food, it doesn't need as much space.
The new bathrooms will be smaller than most passengers are used to, but Frontier doesn't expect many complaints. "Customers fly on regional aircraft all the time when they can't stand up in the lavatory," Shurz says. "They handle that just fine."