Quietly, stealthily, Frontier Airlines has been reinventing itself as a clone of Spirit, but without the offensive bombast that has made Spirit a lightning rod for consumer criticism and complaints.
Spirit and its ultra-low-cost brethren are in the business of stuffing as many seats as possible—comfort be damned!—into their planes, offering as little service as possible, charging fees for everything, and advertising stunningly low prices. It’s a business model that has made Spirit one of the most profitable U.S. carriers, and one of the most reviled.
Frontier evidently believes that putting a friendlier face on its operation will result in even better financial performance, without the associated ill will.
Easier said than done, as the airline’s new seating initiative demonstrates.
Frontier is in the process of refitting its Airbus A320 and A319 jets with 12 extra seats, to maximize the maximum potential revenue-per-flight. The airline’s coach seats are already tightly packed, with just 30 – 31 inches of pitch between them. The new configuration will reduce legroom even further. Yet Frontier is boasting “the best new seats in the business!”
Barry Biffle, the airline’s president, explains in a YouTube video that Frontier’s new slimline seats will “truly differentiate our brand versus the competition.” If by that he means that Frontier will feature almost as little legroom as Spirit (with 28 inches of pitch in coach), then he may have a point.
Mr. Biffle works hard to put a positive spin on what appear to be cramped and uncomfortable seats. Presumably because there’s no legroom to speak of, the seats are pre-reclined. “No knee-guard required!” Really?
“Tray tables in coach can really get in the way of your comfort,” Biffle explains. So the new seats feature a tray table just deep enough to accommodate a can of Coke ($1.99). Your laptop? There’s a reason it’s called a laptop, not a tray-table top.
Oh, and those pesky seat-back TVs? “To be honest, 1998 called and they wanted their technology back.” Gone, in other words. No worries, though, Frontier is passing on the savings from the millions of gallons of fuel saved to their customers, Biffle assures us.
Apparently recognizing that the pain inflicted by the new seats is reaching unbearable levels, Frontier is making one move that can legitimately be claimed to be a traveler benefit. The dreaded middle seats will be 19 inches wide, instead of 18 inches.
Biffle’s most compelling pitch may be to environmentalists: “The new seats offer style, comfort, and efficiency. We’re becoming a greener airline by saving 214 gallons of fuel per seat, per year.” And the seat covers are made from recycled leather products.
The new seats will be available fleetwide by this fall. You’ve been warned.
Reader Reality Check
How much discomfort and claustrophobia will you endure for a cheaper flight?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.