Frontier Airlines criticized over social distancing upgrade securing customer empty neighboring seat

Controversy has followed the latest offering by discount airline Frontier: Passengers wishing to have some open space between themselves and another customer can now purchase an upgraded “more room” seat assignment guaranteeing an empty middle seat.

“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,’” said Frontier CEO Barry Biffle in a press release.

The upgrade will be available beginning Friday and starts at $39 per passenger, per flight, according to the company, and is subject to availability. 

Frontier argues that the move “compliments” various health and safety protocols that have emerged following the coronavirus pandemic. 

Various lawmakers have criticized the upgrade, including Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, who called it “callous profiteering.”

“In our current moment of crisis, when everyone is being asked to do what they can to maintain proper social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I find it outrageous that an airline sees the imperative for social distancing as an opportunity to make a buck,” said DeFazio.

Former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and Minnesota Rep. Amy Klobuchar also spoke out against the fee at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday, saying, “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,” according to the Washington Post.

FILE - A Frontier Airlines plane sits on the tarmac at the Pittsburgh International Airport. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Frontier Airlines is well known for its added fees, charging customers for things like bringing carry-on luggage as well as seat assignments to make up for their trademark cheap flights. 

 The company said that it is also adding more available seats to planes departing May 8 through Aug. 31, 2020 for passengers to select, including “stretch seats” for passengers to have extra room in the front rows of the plane.