Frontier’s New Seats Give More Room to the Middle Seat (and No Room for Your Laptop)

Frontier, Seats

Frontier has been slowly working on its transition from a traditional kind of airline into a more point-to-point-focused ultra low cost carrier (ULCC). This has been far from smooth-sailing as travelers have needed to adjust to the new reality of the airline. At the same time, there have been some missteps (particularly the rocky switch to outsourced customer service that seems to have calmed down now). But one of the hallmarks of a ULCC is the ability to squeeze people in. Frontier is doing that with brand new seats, and these seats have some creative features. This is all part of Frontier’s effort to be, as Frontier’s SVP of Commercial Daniel Shurz told me in an interview, “a positively differentiated airline compared to our ultra low cost competitors.”

First, I should clarify that there are actually two types of seats on each airplane. Frontier has its regular seating and it has Stretch seating, both made by Acro Aircraft. While Stretch used to just be all about legroom, it now is an entirely different seat with more cushioning, bigger tray tables, recline, and more comfort over all. The Stretch seat looks like this.

Frontier Stretch Seating

Stretch costs $15 to $50 per direction for a domestic nonstop flight, and it’s basically getting you close to what JetBlue gives everyone today in terms of personal space. But Frontier is a ULCC, so of course, its basic offering is going to be far less than that. What does that look like?

Frontier Regular Seating

From the front, this just looks like a regular seat. Seat pitch is now down to 28 inches, though since these are slimline seats, the legroom is the equivalent to what you’d get on a traditional 30 inch pitch seat. Not much. But hey, people want cheap fares, and this is the way to make that happen. At least Frontier has an affordable option to pay for something better.

But there are a couple really interesting things to consider with this seat. First of all, it’s wider than most, and it’s even wider in the middle. Most seats are made to fit either a 737 or an A320 family aircraft, but a 737 is narrower. So usually you find seats in the 17 to 17.2 inch range at most on those airplanes. The A320 can handle wider seats, and Delta is actually in the process of moving to an 18 inch seat there. Frontier is not only putting 18 inch seats in, but it’s giving the middle seat an extra inch above that. It’ll now be just over 19 inches wide, a full 2 inches wider than what you’ll find on Southwest or most other airlines. That’s a big difference.

I asked why Frontier didn’t just split it up into 3 equal parts and make each seat a third of an inch wider. Daniel responded, “we wouldn’t be talking about it today if we did that.” in other words, a third of an inch doesn’t really impact the experience much, whereas an extra inch in the middle does matter.

Whether travelers will actually notice the inch or not remains to be seen, but what they most definitely will notice is the goofy-looking tiny tray table. Look at this thing.

Frontier Tray Table

Frontier went for simplicity here. You might be able to see that there’s no arm extending the tray out toward you. The arms are fixed, so the tray really just flips up and down. This helps to keep things simple and means that trays are unlikely to break as much, but man, that is one tiny tray table. What about people who want to use laptops? Well, Daniel had a good point on that.

Inflight service comes with drinks and a la carte snacks. A drink, a mixer, and a snack can fit. A 10-inch tablet can fit. You can have a full size tray table, but the idea that you can practically use a laptop in that space is unrealistic. Rather than create that impression, we set it up realistically.

And that is a good point. I’ve never successfully used a laptop on a tray table in a slimline seat, even with pitch a couple inches beyond Frontier’s seat. My best hope is to use T-Rex arms and wedge it into my lap. So there really isn’t a need for a full size tray table if you don’t have room to do anything. Daniel was sure to point out that in the Stretch seats, where there is enough room for a laptop, there is a full size tray table. That makes sense.

Frontier Legroom

I also noticed that the seatback pocket was kept low on this seat whereas many slimline operators have been putting those hard shells at the top of the seat to give more legroom. But again, Frontier went simple here. It still uses a mesh pocket, but it’s a small one. It has room for the safety card and a barf bag but not much more. You can’t put your own stuff in there unless it’s small so it doesn’t impact legroom. At the same time, it gives you more headroom.

These seats also don’t recline. Or, to use the trendy term, they are “pre-reclined.” That is technically true since they aren’t in that standard upright position. And as Daniel notes, “I think the majority of customers don’t actually recline in their seats.” So for those people, this will be more comfortable. For those who like to recline, it’s less comfortable. But again, Stretch seats have the usual recline option so there’s always that option to pay for more.

The new seats first rolled out on an A320 in February of this year, and all A320s are now done. The A319s only have 7 done, but the project is scheduled to be completed in September. What’s remarkable is that the A319s now have 150 seats on them. Back in the day when Frontier was struggling to find its place, it offered great legroom and had only 132 seats onboard. There wasn’t even any extra legroom seating, so this is an enormous change. The days of Live TV are gone as well, as that’s being removed. Frontier is studying wifi, but Daniel was quick to point out that they’ve yet to “find anyone who is able to come up with economics that work for us.”

What do people think about all these changes? Apparently they don’t think much. Daniel says there’s been less feedback than they expected, and the feedback they do get has been “on balance, close to neutral.” That’s probably good news here.

Looking at this from the big picture perspective, I like what Frontier is doing. It provides a cheap, no frills option for those who want it, but there’s also a more traditional experience available for not much more money. Let people decide what they want.

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59 comments on “Frontier’s New Seats Give More Room to the Middle Seat (and No Room for Your Laptop)

  1. The extra inch for the middle seat has two positive sides to it, I think:

    – Nobody wants the middle seat, but now there’s a good reason to actually choose it over the other seats (nevertheless, I personally wouldn’t choose it anyway, though for larger people this might be positive)
    – The window seat has some extra ‘free’ space on the side, so does the aisle seat. Now you’re less stuck in the middle

    I like the way Frontier talks about their changes: straight forward, clear. No the standard marketing bullsh*t where negative aspects are brought as ‘improving your experience’.

  2. And credit to them for not going down the European LCC route of making it all bright orange or covering it with adverts for the in-flight food and drink service.

  3. As someone who ends up in the middle seat a lot (I will sacrifice the window seat to my wife) I think this is a great idea. I always feel like I need to pop my shoulders out of socket to have a modest amount of personal space.

  4. Try sitting in these “prereclined” seats for a 3-4 hour trip.It is like sitting on stiff cardboard with mesh on them & they are immensely uncomfortable.

    1. I second this one. I thought the 2nd row was a good choice but am going to change my seat. I really dread these seats.

  5. The seat cover design looks a lot like the new DL quilted design. I don’t get how it’s better, can’t imagine it’s any more comfortable to sit in. But DL reupholstered their entire fleet DeltaOne, Frist and Comfort+ (formerly Economy Comfort).

  6. Do those little trays lock in the up position or can they come down in an accident and hamper an evacuation?

    Since they are so small, I guess parents with kids won’t be happy there is no room for their kids to color or play on them to keep them amused for a few minutes.

    1. David SF – Good question, and I don’t know the answer. I have a trip to Denver in October – sounds like I might need to fly Frontier and test it out.

      1. From what I remember, the tray doesn’t have a latch. Even when deployed, it doesn’t seem to stick that far into the space between you and the seat in front of you.

        Overall, the seat was comfortable enough on my DEN-LAS trip, but I don’t know if I’d be happy sitting in it for a 4+ hour flight.

        One nice thing is that with Frontier charging for carry-on bags, the overhead compartments were empty enough that everyone who wanted to could put their “personal items” up there.

        1. This tray doesn’t have a latch and easily bumped will come down. My toddler found it amusing as much as I tried to keep him from touching it. Really annoyed the lady in front of me. I’d rather not have a tray table if that’s all you get!

        2. Also, our plane overhead compartment was empty… lady tried to put her personal item up above and flight attendant made her move it to under her seat since she didn’t “pay for the overhead space”.

  7. So they want to put fat people in the middle seat so one person is jammed up against the wall and the other falling into the aisle? I jest, but that’s what I see happening. Honestly, I think they missed an opportunity here as a ULCC. Why not put the wide seat on the aisle (sorry window folks but I think it’s more coveted) and charge more for it?

    And I can’t imagine the seat is any worse than the hard as rock one I just sat on in a DL MD-90. That 2 hour flight felt like an eternity.

  8. It’s not a product I’d ever choose, but at least they’re being honest about their thought process and, more importantly, they’re thinking of ways to balance the economics and the comfort equation.

    Truth is, there were horrible ways to fly even back in the “good old days”. Ask anyone who ever sat in one of Martinair’s dreaded DC-10 middle seats. They had the same very comfortable layout as AA’s DC-10s, 2-4-2 with a cocktail table in the middle, when they were operating on behalf of other airlines. When they were flying on their own, that cocktail table switched to a 15″ seat. Now imagine sitting in that seat LAX-YEG-AMS in a time before iPads or Walkmen. Yeah. Good times.

    1. Mallthus – To add to that, do you know where Row 44 (the wifi provider) got its name? The founder, years ago, was sitting in the middle seat in row 44 on a Laker DC-10 and vowed to created something that would make that terrible experience better. Hence, Row 44.

      1. I’ve flown in the Stretch seats before so I can help you. It’s actually 36-38″. Frontier said on Facebook that the new slimline Stretch seats will retain the same seat pitch as the non slimline Stretch seats.

  9. It’s a free market. And I choose not to fly Frontier or Spirit or any of the ULCC. I’ll pay a higher fare as a result but it’s worth it to avoid stuff like that. What gets me is the big boys with the big fares are starting to borrow stuff from the ULCC but still charge non-ULCC prices. That burns me up.

  10. Maybe I’m odd, but I never use my laptop on a tray table. That puts it at an awkward height, and difficult to type. Much more comfortable to have it sitting on your…well, you know, lap.

  11. To each their own, of course But…!

    30″ seat pitch is tough. 29′ seat pitch is impossible. 28″ is ultra, ultra, did I say ultra impossible. Fares could become $1 a seat and I would still not fly them.

  12. No recline? That’s awesome. Kudos, Frontier. Because there are few things I hate more than when the meathead ahead of me insists on shoving his seat all the way back the instant his overweight sack of fluid body is in the seat. How anyone—anyone—with a shred of gray matter could possibly think reclining seats makes any sense in an era of sub-30″ seat pitch is beyond me. It should be gone from *all* of the standard/no frills economy seating.

    Until then, I’ll just continue to shove my knees into your seat back while you snore. Have a nice flight!

    1. Shoving your knees into one’s back could be assault, especially since it isn’t your seat that you’re shoving your knees into. Depending on your size and reaction time you might just see your nose broken or teeth smashed out from someone defending themselves.

      1. Yeah, dream on. I’ve fully shoved seats forward with my legs before when people have insisted on reclining all the way back, suddenly, as soon as they’ve sat down. Not once (not once!) has anyone had the pair to even look back at me. Because they know what they did was wrong. Bad boy, go lay by your dish.

        (Note: this in no way applies to people who’ve been adult enough to *ask* if it’s OK if they recline. That’s amazing, and I would never in a million years do something that forceful to anyone who does that.)

    2. I’m 6’3″ with shoes off..I am dreading my four hour flight back. The seat pitch is too straight and even though I had a stretch seat(what they called the exit rows) no recline. The stuartess did send me to an empty row, but I just could not get comfortable

  13. I too appreciate the openess of the dialog from Frontier. And the creativity of the wider middle.

    However, when are we going to see revolt at criminally unacceptable seat pitch. This whole “it’s slimline so there’s really more room” thing is not wholly true. It’s time for some limits to be set on two things:

    1) Minimum healthy seat pitch. If the industry can’t agree on a viable standard, customers need to revolt or governments need to regulate

    2) Reasonable accommodation for taller passengers. The industry got itself exempted from the ADA in this country. Otherwise there would be lawsuits that seat pitch discriminates against “height disabled” people. There is nothing a person can do about having a shorter femur. If the seat doesn’t fit, telling them to increase their transportation costs by 2x-20x and sit in first class is NOT a reasonable accommodation. Credit to Frontier here for a clearly and reasonably priced option. (the mystery ‘dynamic’ pricing on other other airlines for their premium seats do not count.)

    1. I agree! For tall people and an aging population filled with joint replacements it’s just a matter of time before travelers starting getting..and suing for…blood clots caused by airline GREED! Keeping in mind that seniors do lots of travel and they are all complaining they hate travel now because its beyond discomfort..its painful! I know many that only travel for family emergencies now because the pleasure in airline travel is a thing of the past. The airlines are going to lose every dollar they spent .modifying those airplanes to squeeze in 2 more rows when air travel goes down and there are class action lawsuits for back pain and deep vein thrombosis. It’s time for passengers to demand government intervention. FAA…you call this SAFE?

  14. Wasn’t a wider middle seat Bombardier’s idea? Or were they just the first to get attention for it when they announced that the C-Series would offer it?

  15. The seats in economic section are hard as rocks. My last flight to DEN from MEM was 1.5 hrs but felt light 3. The trays are a joke. They are low enough that combined with the pitch it hits your knees and they also hit the seat back if you are 5’11” to 6’1″. Not exactly abnormal sizes. Kudos however for the no incline policy. I never do it unless the jackass in front of me does.

  16. Flew AUS-DEN on a slimline 320 a little under a month ago. I made sure to buy Stretch on the way back just in case I got another 320 with slimline seats in it. Got an older 320 with “normal” seats instead. Go figure.

    My guess is that my ticket in early August is for a slimline 320. So my Stretch seat ($25) is already purchased. I know what the “normal” seats are like (iffy but bearable legroom for this almost-6′ thin guy, not-actually-a-tray-table so my laptop bag gets used as a substitute) so I should find out pretty soon whether what $25 buys me is worth it.

    Window seat of course though…don’t need the extra inch of width and for the short-ish flight no need to use the aisle inflight.

  17. Being 6’4″ myself, I can’t even begin to imagine a 2-3 hour flight in a seat with seat pitch under 30″. But I do appreciate that the upgrade for more leg room is reasonable enough that I don’t have to sell one of my kidneys to afford it.

    1. I don’t think Frontier has any routes more than about 6.5 hours (DEN-FAI, assuming they still do that), and hopefully they have the sense to keep non-slimline planes on those routes for as long as possible. That said, there’s a reason I bought up to Stretch after an hour and 45 sitting in one of those seats.

  18. One of my biggest complaints about air travel today is the crowded space in the seats. I am alway feeling squeezed in and my legs have to bend up to fit. Another problem is when the passenger in front of me drops their seat back and I find their head right in my face. When traveling on a flight of a long duration, this can be very uncomfortable. I like the fact that the new seats on Frontier do not recline. At least that is a plus, however they seem too cramped. I would probably choose the Stretch seating. It is getting to the point that the only way to beat this is to fly first class and pay a lot more money.

  19. Does Frontier offer power outlets on their international flights? Figured we’d watch a flick or 2 on the netbook for our 3 1/2 hour flight to Cancun from Cleveland but not sure the netbook has enough juice for that

  20. Unbearably uncomfortable seats. Bring a strap to hold your knees together. ULCC has surpassed it’s limits.

  21. Recently I flew twice on Frontier and had a bad experiences with their new seats. I sat in row 6, paid extra, not sure why! I had to jump out of my middle seat with SEVERE LEG CRAMPS. I did not know not the seats don’t recline. I had no room to stretch my legs. I have never experienced anything like that before. After writing to Frontier, I was offered a 25 dollar credit. I was asked to sit down due to landing. It was painful.

  22. HORRIBLE, just horrible seats. I just returned from a round trip flight and being only 5 ft the molded plastic with minimal padding was horrible. My back went into spasms and the seat would not recline. Everyone around me was complaining, both ways. SMALL seats, small lap trays. These photos look a lot better than they really are. I was in row 4 and it was the worst flight ever…..NEVER will I fly Frontier again. They are advertising and making Youtube videos to make what they did sound GREAT….NOT…believe me….NOT…Check out the jump in complaints with the FAA and Consumer Affairs and you will see I am telling the truth..My personal doctor said I was the 2nd patient he has seen for a bad back following flying on Frontier….do not believe this phony write-up.

  23. PAINFUL. I just flew from Cleveland to Denver, a 3 hour flight siting on the new seats. Within 30 minutes I was very uncomfortable. I had a neck pillow and I sat on it instead of putting it around my neck. My husbands hip was giving him allot of pain because there is very little padding in these seats. I’m calling Frontier this morning to see if I can purchase stretch seating. If it’s available. We were so miserable on that plane. I use to love flying Frontier. My husbands fussy, he only likes Non Stop flights.
    We just purchased flights to come back to Denver in December and we didn’t even look at Frontier, we went with UNITED, hope we have better luck with them. Most of our friends chose United, we are coming in for a wedding. If I can’t get stretch seating for my return flight then I’m going to purchase a seat cushion. I like the fact the seats do not recline. I have had to many people in front of me recline and they could care less that they are making YOU uncomfortable and giving you very little space. I’ve had leg cramps on planes before due to the fact you can’t stretch you legs, it’s terribly painful. I use to love flying. We paid $89 to get a TSA precheck so we wouldn’t have to wait in the long lines, so we wouldn’t have to take off our shoes, belt, etc. Most of the airlines we fly, do not offer the TSA precheck. It makes my husband so mad, so I have to deal with his complaining the whole time we are in line going thru security. It just isn’t any fun flying anymore.

    1. United is famous for late flights where you miss connections..with ZERO compensation or help from United. They change your gates with little notice too. We loved Delta on our last trip. Great flight attendants..on time..comfortable seats. We won’t fly anything else now.

  24. My husband and I just flew round trip from Denver to Portland. Worst experience of my life. I could not stretch my legs, my husband sat in the middle and he was so cramped due to the larger gentlemen on the isle. One the way back we spent the extra money for more room, I did not feel it was any different probably 1/2 inch. We are going to stop using our Frontier credit card and start using the United one. I hope to never fly them again.
    I wonder what will happen if they ever get sued because someone was so cramped and unable to move their legs and they get a blood clot.

  25. Stop complaining …. Open your wallet , fly business or first with a traditional carrier….anyone who flys on a discount airliner deserves the treatment they receive ….life’s too short to fly in a tight, uncomfortable seat….

  26. Strongly agree with so many others, the seats are torture! 3.5 hour flight left me sore for days! Dealbreaker. There is low cost, and then there is just poor choice. Mine will not be Frontier.

  27. Harry, I’ve flown southwest (and it doesn’t get any more ULCC than that) and had no problems sitting for 3 or 4 hours, but on the frontier flight from Mco to den today after an hour my backside hurt so much I had to stand up and walk around a bit, this repeated 3 times. Back to the big 3 (Delta, American, United)…

  28. My husband and I just got back from our rndtrip flight on Frontier after 3 1/2 hr trip each way and were never told the seats did not recline! I had such a backache and headache! I will never fly frontier again! Not to mention the flt attendants to our destination were not friendly at all. Coming back they were an improvement but could have been better. And we had to pay xtra for everything! Didn’t realize that soda or juice was not complimentary anymore!

  29. Just flew Frontier from SLC to Maryland. I was originally so happy with the fare. I had saved $100. I had an 8 hour layover in Denver and figured I could get a cheap hotel and still be ahead.

    And then I checked in. $22 for the cheapest seats and $40 for a CARRYON! I now had to spend the night sleeping on the FLOOR of the Denver airport. After that misery, I had to sit in the most uncomfortable seat for almost 4 hours. No food. No drink. Unless I wanted to spend even more money.

    We all found it hilarious that they kept asking us to put our seats back into the upright position. Was there any choice?
    And then they offered 40,000 miles to anyone who signed up for their card. Absolutely no takers on that flight. I started laughing when they announced this. They could offer free travel for the next 10 years and I wouldn’t have taken it.

    1. Laura – Where did you book your ticket? I’m guessing it was a third party website, right? That’s the problem with those – people don’t realize they aren’t getting an equal comparison.

  30. It’s also important to note that there is an electrical box measuring about 3″ wide by 6″ tall on the left or right frame under side of the middle seat. This will cause you to contort your left or right thigh/knee to avoid it depending on which side of the plane you are on if you are over say 5’8″ or so. This caused me knee pains the next morning. On the return I asked the small lady in the window seat if she would trade me and it didn’t bother her at all.

  31. ….” I like what Frontier is doing. It provides a cheap, no frills option for those who want it, but there’s also a more traditional experience available for not much more money. Let people decide what they want…”
    ———
    Cheap, no frills, traditional – Why is Cranky Flier perpetuating this mindset that no want wants or really believes?….the things we have dreaded for years – totally uncomfortable seats, stiff-necked torture for most. These things haven’t happened because we “want” cheap things and no frills – I could be sitting in a jail cell with the same or more comforts. It’s FORCED on us, it is not because we want it.

  32. Why do peaple cry so much are u really that untitled that u cant sit in a seat for a couple of hour without complaining. Just stay home no one wants to hete it

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