AP

Frontier Airlines will drop open-seat fee that drew attacks

May 7, 2020, 2:39 PM
In this April 23, 2020 photo a Frontier Airlines jetliner taxis to a runway for take off from Denve...
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. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Frontier Airlines is dropping plans to charge passengers extra to sit next to an empty middle seat after congressional Democrats accused the airline of trying to profit from fear over the new coronavirus.

“We recognize the concerns raised that we are profiting from safety and this was never our intent,” Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said late Wednesday in a letter to three lawmakers. “We simply wanted to provide our customers with an option for more space.”

Biffle said the airline will rescind the extra fee, which Frontier called More Room, and block the seats from being sold.

Earlier in the day, Democrats had railed against Frontier’s plan to charge passengers at least $39 per flight to guarantee they would sit next to an empty middle seat. The offer was to begin with flights Friday and run through Aug. 31.

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee called it “outrageous.” Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said the Denver-based airline was using the need for social distancing during a pandemic “as an opportunity to make a buck … capitalizing on fear and passengers’ well-founded concerns for their health and safety.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., highlighted the fee during a congressional hearing on how COVID-19 is affecting the airline industry.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for some passengers who can’t afford to pay an additional charge for a seat to be less safe than other travelers,” Klobuchar said.

U.S. air travel has dropped more than 90% from a year ago because of the pandemic, and many flights are nearly empty. However, some flights — highlighted on social media — have been much more full, with many passengers not wearing face coverings. That has led airlines to say they will block middle seats when possible to create space between passengers.

From the outset, Biffle rejected the notion that his airline would be charging for social distancing.

“We are offering the option, and it is guaranteed. We don’t believe you need it — if everybody is wearing a facial covering – to be safe,” he told The Associated Press earlier this week. “It gives people more peace of mind if they want it.”

Biffle said ticket sales rose after previous announcements around safety, including a decision to require passengers to wear masks, and he expected the same reaction to the empty-seat offer.

Airlines steal ideas from each other all the time, but so far, none have copied Frontier’s More Room offer.

During Wednesday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing, the president of Airlines for America, a trade group for the biggest U.S. carriers, said none of his airlines have a similar charge. Frontier is not a member.

The trade group official, Nicholas Calio, said other airlines block some middle seats and board passengers from back to front to keep spacing on planes.

Klobuchar asked if the federal government should issue guidelines to “fix” Frontier’s policy. Calio said rules aren’t necessary.

“Hopefully the market will take care of that,” Calio said.

“Well, it didn’t with Frontier,” Klobuchar responded.

Hilary Godwin, dean of the school of public health at the University of Washington, said the Frontier policy “is exactly the reason that some national-level guidance” is needed for social distancing on airlines and in airports.

Godwin said crowded planes and long flights create the greatest risk for spreading the virus. She said the expectation that air travel will recover slowly is a good thing — it will give airlines and health officials time to decide the best steps to protect travelers and airline and airport workers.

Biffle announced Frontier would drop the fee idea in a letter to Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Jesus Garcia, D-Ill., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

U.S. health officials stress the importance of social distancing, and they also recommend that people wear cloth face coverings in public because some who are infected don’t feel symptoms and could unknowingly spread the virus.
___
Associated Press writer Jonathan Poet in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 25: A giant flag of IR Iran on the pitch prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2...
ALI ABDUL-HASSAN and ABBY SEWELL Associated Press

US-Iran match reflects a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

The U.S. team’s must-win World Cup match against Iran will be closely watched across the Middle East, where the two nations have been engaged in a cold war for over four decades and where many blame one or both for the region’s woes.
3 days ago
Irene Cara in 'Fame' (Photo courtesy of Mgm/Kobal, Shutterstock)...
MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer

‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’ singer-actor Irene Cara dies at 63

singer-actress Irene Cara, who starred and sang the title cut from the 1980 hit movie “Fame” and then belted out the era-defining hit “Flashdance ... What a Feeling” from 1983's “Flashdance,” has died. She was 63.
5 days ago
The U.S. Coast Guard ship Bernard C. Webber, leaves the coast guard base, Monday, July 19, 2021, in...
Associated Press

‘Miracle’: Missing cruise ship passenger found OK in water

The U.S. Coast Guard says a passenger who went overboard from a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico was rescued on Thanksgiving after likely being in the water for hours.
6 days ago
FILE - A Montana man was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the Capitol riot. (AP P...
The Associated Press

Montana man gets 3 years in prison for role in Capitol riot

A Montana man will spend three years in federal prison for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S Capitol.
7 days ago
Debbie, left, and Chet Barnett place flowers at a memorial outside of the Chesapeake, Va., Walmart ...
The Associated Press

Walmart shooter left ‘death note,’ bought gun day of killing

According to authorities in Virginia, the Walmart shooter bought his gun just hours prior to killing six employees.
7 days ago
Dry lakebed...
Kira Hoffelmeyer

Lawsuit looms over tiny fish in drought-stricken West

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Conservationists have notified U.S. wildlife officials that they will sue over delayed decisions related to protections for two rare fish species that are threatened by groundwater pumping in the drought-stricken West. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a formal notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service last week […]
9 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Frontier Airlines will drop open-seat fee that drew attacks