This is the one airline where you’ll actually fight for the middle seat

Photo: Aero Icarus/Flickr

Nobody likes being stuck in the middle seat on a long flight — unless they have intimacy issues. But one airline is redesigning its seats to give the middle passenger extra room, and increasing its profit margin in the process.

Frontier Airlines is installing new 19-inch-wide middle seats, a full inch wider than the seats next to the window or aisle. Frontier claims they’re the widest seats on any U.S. airline. CCO Daniel Shurz told CN Traveler, “This will make sitting in the middle seat a little less uncomfortable.” You have to give him credit for not sugar-coating it. Not many executives would brag that their own company’s seats are “less uncomfortable.”

Then again, that’s Frontier’s style. The budget carrier has long embraced its no-frills image. Frontier loyalists know what they’re getting into when they book a flight: a bare-bones experience with all the extras stripped out in favor of a rock-bottom fare. Frontier even charges extra for drinks and carry-on bags, but not for that extra inch of room.

In keeping with the airline’s ethos, the new, roomier seats come with some major caveats of their own. They’re less padded, and they don’t recline. Actually, they come in a “pre-reclined” position. Frontier president Barry Biffle calls it a “built-in knee guard,” which is as good an example of positive spin as I’ve ever heard.

Frontier is also jamming more seats into each plane, giving each of its customers even less room. Its Airbus A320s and A319s will each add another 12 seats. This brings the total number of seats in an A320 up to 180, a full 30 seats more than United puts on the same aircraft. In the future, the company hopes to increase that number to 186, by moving the bathroom into a space where most airlines put a galley. Presumably, a row of seats will then be added in the cockpit, then in the cargo hold, then on the wings, then under the wings, and so on… all in the name of progress (and profit, of course).

But on the plus side, those seats will be wider than ever. And as you know, flying is all about making compromises.

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