Frontier Quietly Introduces Stretch Premium Economy

Frontier has been surprisingly quiet about its latest product change, a new premium economy section called Stretch. I saw it mentioned on their Facebook page, and I believe they mentioned it on their earnings call, but I haven’t seen much else. This will be good news for some and Frontier Tails Introduce Stretch Premium Economynot-so-good news for others. Still, I think it’s a smart move that will have many benefits for the airline.

Stretch is pretty much the same as Economy Plus on United and Even More Legroom on JetBlue. You’ll get 4 more inches of legroom than you get today (36 inch seat pitch) if you sit in the first four rows, but the service is the same as coach. Of course, if legroom goes up on some seats, legroom goes down on the rest of the plane. Good news, bad news, see?

Originally, Frontier had 33 inches of seat pitch (the distance between a point on your seat to that exact same point on the seat in front of you). A year or two ago, they reduced that to 32 inches throughout the airplane. Now with this new change, Frontier says the number of seats won’t change, so as long as you can operate a calculator, you can figure out that this means legroom is going down in the back. They say most seats will have 31 inches of pitch but there will be some with 30 inches and some with 32 inches.

So how do you get those seats up front? Well you have to start by getting an airplane that has them in the first place. The Embraer 190s that are flying for Frontier have them now. The few A320s in the fleet will be done by December 15. The A319s will be done by February 1, and the lonely remaining A318s will be done by December 24 . . . 2010. My guess is they’ll be out of the fleet before they even bother with those. 2009. Looks like it was just a typo on their part.

If your airplane has Stretch, then there are a couple ways you can sit there. Remember, Frontier follows the Air Canada model of having distinct fare classes with different benefits. So if you’re in the top tier class (Classic Plus), you get to sit up there without additional charge. That’s the only way to get up front at the time of booking.

At the time of check-in, there are a bunch of other options. If you’re in the middle tier (Classic), you can sit up there for an additional $15 per segment. If you’re in the cheap bastard tier (Economy), it’s $25 per segment. Remember, that’s per segment so it could be $100 on a roundtrip with a connection.

The only other way to get up front (besides begging the gate agent and possibly showing some skin) is to be an elite member in the EarlyReturns frequent flier program. Actually, only the top tier Summit members get to sit up front, and they only get it at the time of check-in. The lower tier elite Ascent members have to pay just like everyone else. Same goes for the unwashed masses who have no elite status.

Overall, I like this plan. It provides a tangible benefit to those who purchase the Classic Plus fares. Creating value to encourage people to buy up is a good thing. And since they aren’t reducing the number of seats, it takes very little for this to be a revenue winner for them.

There’s also one more benefit. You know all those flights Frontier is operating for Midwest? I bet this ends up being sold as Signature Service when using the Midwest brand name. Of course, that’ll be a shadow of what Signature used to mean, but at least it’s something they can, pardon the pun, stretch across the brands.

[Updated 11/11 @ 746p to fix date on A318 reconfiguration date]

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