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]

17 Responses to Frontier Quietly Introduces Stretch Premium Economy

  1. Dan Webb says:

    This makes me wonder how Classic Plus has been performing.

    And, is the maximum number of Classic Plus fares they’ll sell is the number of Stretch seats available?

  2. Andrew says:

    I wonder if they’ll add seat-back TV to the E190′s eventually as well — I just booked DEN to CAK, which used to be Frontier A319s, but is now Republic-operated E190s. It still lists free TV as a benefit for the Classic and Classic Plus fares on those flights. So, it makes sense that they concentrated on adding STRETCH to the E190 fleet first to help shore up interest in Classic Plus, at least.

  3. Robert S says:

    So the majority of passengers will go from decent legroom to really cramped legroom? Just like United’s Economy Minus? This sounds like a loser, given that they’re competing with Southwest who has a consistently reasonable 32 to 33 inch seat pitch throughout the plane.

  4. DRG says:

    I think you’ve stumbled upon what us in the marketing-communications field call a “soft launch”

  5. Scott W says:

    I have to assume this service is about streamlining aircraft for cross-utilization with F9/YX service. I was actually wondering how they planned to do the cross-fleeting given that YX advertises “both Signature and Saver service on all flights” — now we know.

  6. David SFeastbay says:

    It’s it funny how all the airlines do what ever they can to cater to the people who pay the highest fares which the airlines say pay their bills. But at the same time all the airlines are crying about how poor they our and how they need more money. I guess catering to the higher fare passenger isn’t working, if it was they would just get rid of coach or reverse the seating so there are only 12 coach seats and the rest the higher fare seats.

    That would never work out in a real world but the airlines really don’t do anything to make the coach travelers who make up the bulk of their passengers feel welcome or wanted. This is a good example of how the higher fare seats passenger gain a benefit at the expense of the lower fare passengers.

  7. Potcake says:

    Sorry, Brett, have to disagree with you on this one. Imagine 30 in of pitch in the middle seat of one of F9′s longer-hauls, like DEN-LGA, for 4 hours. After that I don’t think the average economy flier’s next flight would be in Stretch, it would be on United or, more likely, Southwest.

  8. Nimitz says:

    Is pitch the best measure? What’s the N2N (Kneecap to Next Seat) on Frontier versus others? I flew on Skybus 319′s, and despite their paltry seat pitch, the modern, slim line seats made the experience no less comfortable, perhaps I should say no more UNcomfortable, than others. Even CMH-BLI. I believe F9′s remaining 319 are quite new, perhaps with modern seats that give the experience of equivalent space on lower pitch.

  9. Dan says:

    Ugh. The mere chance of getting a seat with 30″ pitch means my butt goes to a competing airline, *not* buying up on F9. If my companion and I choose to “upgrade” one round-trip flight together, we’d be paying at extra $200. On United, for $350, my companion and I get access to economy plus for an entire year.

  10. Bobber says:

    Dan wrote:

    On United, for $350, my companion and I get access to economy plus for an entire year.

    Indeed! And, if news reports out of Heathrow this evening are to be believed, the chance of having an inebriated pilot as an added extra! Those United boys really are lightweights when it comes to drinking in London

    (so glad I’m flying with them in 36hrs time).

  11. CF says:

    Dan Webb wrote:

    And, is the maximum number of Classic Plus fares they’ll sell is the number of Stretch seats available?

    I would assume so, but I don’t know.

    Potcake wrote:

    Sorry, Brett, have to disagree with you on this one. Imagine 30 in of pitch in the middle seat of one of F9’s longer-hauls, like DEN-LGA, for 4 hours. After that I don’t think the average economy flier’s next flight would be in Stretch, it would be on United or, more likely, Southwest.

    I can understand choosing Southwest because of more legroom, but you aren’t going to get it on United unless you pay up to Economy Plus. It’s probably cheaper to buy up to Stretch on Frontier than it will be for Economy Plus on those longer hauls.

    Also, most of the seats will be 31″ – I’m looking forward to getting clarification on which rows are 30″ but I imagine it’ll be those between Stretch and the exit row.

    Nimitz wrote:

    Is pitch the best measure? What’s the N2N (Kneecap to Next Seat) on Frontier versus others?

    In this case, pitch is a fine measure because they are reconfiguring the same exact seats from 32″ to mostly 31″ – so it is a loss of 1″. But I believe that when they went from 33″ to 32″ they went slimline, so it wouldn’t be as accurate. Certainly 31″ in a slimline is better than 31″ in a traditional UA seat.

  12. Old Airline Guy says:

    Two interesting notes . . . when Frontier started 15 years ago with two leased ex-US/PI 737-200s the F seats were removed but the entire cabin was given F legroom. It was great. That ended when the -300s (ex-US and BF) were added to the fleet, so the premium legroom went away. Also, the AC pricing model is no coincidence. F9’s CEO (now Republic’s exec VP), Sean Menke, left F9 for AC, developed that pricing model, helped turn around AC and returned to F9. If First Data hadn’t pulled its shenanigans last year with Frontier’s credit card receipts Frontier’s ongoing profitability under Mr. Menke might have allowed it to remain an independent carrier. The rest of the industry should thank F9 for its bankruptcy filing: if First Data had been allowed to withhold 100% of credit card transactions until flights were completed then every airline would have faced the same situation from every credit card processor and the carriers would have tumbled like dominoes.
    Stretch is just a competitive response to a changing industry with changing bucket structures, yield management and pricepoints.
    BTW, I flew DEN-SEA-ANC in the back row middle seat on a fully-packed BF 737-400, high-density seating, 30 or 31 inch seat pitch. I’m 6’2″. Not being able to recline more than an inch against the back bulkhead was a bigger frustration than the legroom.

  13. NM says:

    I recently flew LAX-ATL on a DL 763 with 30″ seat pitch (window seat). I’m 6’5″, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

  14. Nimitz says:

    @ Cranky
    Yep, clearly in analyzing F9′s move, seat pitch is the measure. With same seats an inch less is an inch less. I was more referring to the general discussion, and whether pitch is a good measure of cross-carrier customer experience, though it may be the only measure available. As you point out, 31″ with slimline is probably comparable to 32″+ on other carriers with standard seats. If F9 can generate the revenue benefit provided by Stretch without putting themselves at competitive disadvantage in the rest of the plane, it’s a big win. Managing the perception of how Stretch impacts the back of the plane is key. Perhaps that is why they are soft launching.

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  16. finally, much needed. i mean i am not 6 feet tall but this is a service that i would gladly pay a bit extra for. or, something to look forward for the elite members. i think this will do well and others will follow, no?

  17. always on the verge of layoff says:

    How bout we forget about the difference between 30 to 32 inch seat pitch and focus on the fact that if the general public doesn’t understand the difference between a 3 digit flight number and a 4 digit one, ( which most don’t) when they show up for there frontier flight everyone has spoke so highly of and see a royal blue brazil product marked midwest outside the gate they are already going to be completly confused and cramped on thier 3 hour ride and we probably won’t see them back anyways.

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