Lawmakers are criticizing Frontier Airlines’ plans to charge passengers extra for “More Room” middle seats aimed at ensuring social distance during flights — an option all major U.S. airlines have announced as a cost-free option as part of their new policies over the past few weeks.
MORE: With face coverings and social distancing, COVID-19 ushers in new age of air travel
Frontier Airlines announced Monday that passengers traveling from May 8 through August 31 can select the “More Room” seat option — starting at $39 — which will ensure there is an empty middle seat next to them.
Passengers wearing masks arrive at Dulles International Airport March 13, 2020 in Dulles, Virginia.Passengers wearing masks arrive at Dulles International Airport March 13, 2020 in Dulles, Virginia.Win Mcnamee/Getty Images, FILE
On Wednesday Democratic lawmakers Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Rep. Jesús García, D-Ill., sent a letter to Frontier President and CEO Barry Biffle calling the airline’s new middle seat guarantee policy “outrageous given the spread of the coronavirus” insisting that “the flying public should not be charged extra to stay healthy on flights.”
They urged the airline to “immediately reconsider” its “misguided policy.”
“While your competitors such as Delta Airlines have rightfully decided to block off middle seats without a charge to passengers, Frontier Airlines has made the bewildering decision to punish the very customers it needs most,” lawmakers wrote.
Frontier Airlines did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment on the lawmakers’ concerns.
All major U.S. airlines have slashed flight schedules considerably in response to the record low demand for air travel. The number of passengers at U.S. airports is down more than 93% compared to last year, according to the TSA. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned that the global aviation industry could take a hit of more than $300 billion due to COVID-19.
Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said he found it “outrageous” that Frontier saw the “imperative for social distancing as an opportunity to make a buck.”
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., sat down with with ABC News' Senior Transportation Correspondent David Kerley ahead of the 737 Max hearing.House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., sat down with with ABC News' Senior Transportation Correspondent David Kerley ahead of the 737 Max hearing.ABC News
“Frontier’s decision to charge passengers to keep middle seats empty is capitalizing on fear and passengers’ well-founded concerns for their health and safety,” DeFazio said.
Frontier’s CEO pushed back against the notion that the airline is putting a price on safety and said he believes the face covering requirement and additional cleaning measures they implemented are sufficient in addressing passengers COVID-19 related concerns.
MORE: Delta, American, United to require passengers wear masks
“We don’t believe this is what you need to be safe but it’s one more thing that we can do to put people’s minds at ease,” Biffle said on CNBC on Monday.
The International Air Transport Association on Tuesday said it supports mandatory face coverings for passengers and crew, but that it does not support mandating social distancing measures that would leave middle seats empty.
“Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is low,” IATA said in a release. “Mask-wearing by passengers and crew will reduce the already low risk, while avoiding the dramatic cost increases to air travel that onboard social distancing measures would bring.”