Frontier Airlines will attempt to reinvent the middle seat

It’s even more cramped when the passengers arrive.
It’s even more cramped when the passengers arrive.
Image: Reuters/Rick Wilking
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The dreaded middle seat is getting a makeover at Frontier Airlines. The low-cost US carrier will be widening the middle seats on its Airbus 319 and 320 planes, so that cramped passengers feel a bit more at ease in what’s traditionally the least-preferred spot on the plane. 

The new seats will measure 19.3 inches across—1.2 inches wider than the window and aisle seats, which will remain at a width of 18.1 inches.

In a world of rapidly shrinking seats, this sounds like good news, especially for the customers of Frontier, a carrier with a reputation for a high rate of complaints, fees for every little service, and generally poor customer service. But while Frontier says it won’t be charging extra for the new middle seats, they do come with a handful of comfort tradeoffs.

As with many other Tetris-like designs intended to stuff more passengers into airplanes, the plans to reconfigure the two Airbus models at Frontier will give the airline an opportunity to incorporate additional seats on the aircraft, with an expected net gain of 12 seats per plane. To get there, the distance between rows will be reduced. As CNN and Condé Nast Traveler have noted, the pitch—airline parlance for the distance between a given point in a seat and the same point in the seat one row ahead or behind—will be 28 inches instead of the current 30 inches.

The seats on these planes also will be “pre-reclined” at a fixed angle, and will come with thinner padding—about 30% thinner than the old ones.

On the plus side for customers, the reduced cushioning will actually help preserve some of the personal space available to seated passengers, as will the roughly 50% reduction in the size of the plane’s tray tables. And on the plus side for the airline, each of the lighter-weight chairs will allow Frontier to save 214 gallons of fuel per year.