One U.S. Airline Will Now Sell You an Empty Middle Seat

That's a temporary, not-perfect solution to starting up safe air travel

Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
By Kirk Miller / May 6, 2020 11:37 am

Good news when we start traveling again? That middle seat is probably going to be empty.

The bad news? That’s a loss for the airlines, and one of them wants you to pay for it.

As reported by the travel site One Mile at a Time, passengers can now “guarantee” an empty middle chair on Frontier if they pay $39. This new seating arrangement, available for 18 seats per flight, begins May 8 and runs through August 31.

As the Frontier website notes, this “More Room” seat assignment “complements the airline’s mandatory face covering requirement for all passengers and flight crews, along with a wide variety of other initiatives aimed at achieving the highest levels of passenger well-being and comfort when flying Frontier.”

While ideally the airline would just suck it up and not use the middle seat — something other airlines may claim to be doing but not actually following through with — some travel groups argue that losing this capacity would destroy the airlines economically. According to the International Air Transport Association, airlines need to operate at 77 percent capacity to break even, while leaving out a middle seat would reduce an airline’s capacity to a loss-heavy 62 percent — and ticket prices would have to go up about 50 percent to recoup those losses.

There’s no clear-cut answer here: Frontier probably shouldn’t give an “option” to have the middle seat free, but $39 is less than what you’d probably pay if airlines were forced to curtail capacity. In any case, given reduced demand for air travel, you hopefully won’t have to worry about this until the airlines, the government and, well, science figures out what’s best.

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