Frontier Airlines abandoned plans to charge customers to keep middle seats open on flights following criticism from lawmakers that the airline was profiting from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Denver-based carrier has rescinded the price increase for its "More Room" seating option, which charged passengers to keep the middle seat in a row empty on their flight, CEO Barry Biffle wrote Wednesday in a letter to a trio of Democratic lawmakers.
The pricing option, announced Monday and set to begin May 8, started at $39.
"We recognize the concerns raised that we are profiting from safety and this was never our intent," Biffle wrote in the letter, which Frontier provided to CNN. "We simply wanted to provide our customers with an option for more space."
Earlier this week, in a letter to Biffle, Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, Illinois Rep. Jesús G. "Chuy" García and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey called the pricing "unreasonable and disproportional," particularly when other airlines had taken similar measures without charging customers.
"The flying public should not be charged to stay healthy on flights," the joint letter to Biffle read. "At a time when most of the public does not feel comfortable flying, we strongly believe that additional fees such as the 'More Room' option will further discourage the flying public from participating in an already wearying endeavor, as well as penalize those who remain forced to travel."
In his response, Biffle said the airline decided to implement its policy because it is selling more than half of the seats on its flights. Blocking off all middle seats on a plane -- one-third of all seats -- would drive up airfare prices 50%, he said.
Frontier is a low-cost air carrier, with current roundtrip tickets available for as low as $21, though there are fees for checked bags and seat selection. Raising airfare prices could harm customers who depend on the airline for lower fare, Biffle said.
Other airlines already blocked off middle seating on flights. Delta Air Lines made the change in April, with no charge to customers, to allow passengers a modicum of social distance. And American Airlines said it will leave 50% of middle seats in the main cabin empty and "will only use those seats when necessary."