Denver-headquartered Frontier Airlines is retracting its $39 “More Room” fee that guarantees passengers would sit between empty seats.
“We recognize the concerns raised that we are profiting from safety, and this was never our intent,” Barry Biffle, chief executive officer (CEO) for Frontier, said in a letter, per a report in the Associated Press (AP) on Thursday (May 7).
“We simply wanted to provide our customers with an option for more space,” he said in the letter sent to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Sen. Edward Markey, (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jesus Garcia, (D-Ill.).
The airline is still planning to block out empty seats between passengers for better social distancing on flights at no additional charge.
Biffle said he had expected a positive reaction to the More Room option, just as people cheered the move to require all passengers to wear face masks. Instead, Frontier drew the ire of Democrats in Congress when the fee was first announced on Tuesday (May 5).
“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,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairperson of the House Transportation Committee, said in a statement.
During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday (May 6), the head of Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said none of its member airlines instituted a fee for empty seats. Frontier Airlines doesn’t belong to the group.
Delta Airlines started blocking off middle seats in April for better social distancing. American Airlines said it would use middle seats only if necessary.
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic grounded almost all air travel in the U.S. with flights down 96 percent from the same time period in 2019. People who did have to fly often ended up on packed planes, triggering a slew of complaints on Twitter.
Airlines have since instituted additional safety measures, like mandating face masks and giving customers the option to reschedule crowded flights.