Airline accused of COVID-19 profiteering over 'empty-seat' promo

Frontier Airlines is dropping plans to charge passengers extra to sit next to an empty middle seat after congressional Democrats accused the airline of trying to profit from fear over the new coronavirus.

Airline accused of COVID-19 profiteering over 'empty-seat' promo

Frontier Airlines is dropping plans to charge passengers extra to sit next to an empty middle seat after congressional Democrats accused the airline of trying to profit from fear over the new coronavirus.

"We recognize the concerns raised that we are profiting from safety and this was never our intent," Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said late Wednesday in a letter to three lawmakers.

"We simply wanted to provide our customers with an option for more space."

Biffle said the airline will rescind the extra fee, which Frontier called More Room, and block the seats from being sold.

Earlier in the day, Democrats had railed against Frontier's plan to charge passengers at least US$39 ($60.74) per flight to guarantee they would sit next to an empty middle seat. The offer was to begin on Friday and run through to August 31.

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee called it "outrageous." Democrat Oregon representative Peter DeFazio said the Denver-based airline was using the need for social distancing during a pandemic "as an opportunity to make a buck ... capitalizing on fear and passengers' well-founded concerns for their health and safety."

Former Democratic presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar highlighted the fee during a congressional hearing on how COVID-19 is affecting the airline industry.

"I don't think it's appropriate for some passengers who can't afford to pay an additional charge for a seat to be less safe than other travelers," Klobuchar said.

US air travel has dropped more than 90 percent from a year ago because of the pandemic, and many flights are nearly empty.

However, some flights — highlighted on social media — have been much more full, with many passengers not wearing face coverings. That has led airlines to say they will block middle seats when possible to create space between passengers.

From the outset, Biffle rejected the notion that his airline would be charging for social distancing.

"We are offering the option, and it is guaranteed. We don't believe you need it — if everybody is wearing a facial covering – to be safe," he told The Associated Press earlier this week.

"It gives people more peace of mind if they want it."

Biffle said ticket sales rose after previous announcements around safety, including a decision to require passengers to wear masks, and he expected the same reaction to the empty-seat offer.

Airlines steal ideas from each other all the time, but so far, none have copied Frontier's More Room offer.

During Wednesday's Senate Commerce Committee hearing, the president of Airlines for America, a trade group for the biggest US carriers, said none of his airlines have a similar charge. Frontier is not a member.

The trade group official, Nicholas Calio, said other airlines block some middle seats and board passengers from back to front to keep spacing on planes.

Klobuchar asked if the federal government should issue guidelines to "fix" Frontier's policy. Calio said rules aren't necessary.

"Hopefully the market will take care of that," Calio said.

"Well, it didn't with Frontier," Klobuchar responded.

Hilary Godwin, dean of the school of public health at the University of Washington, said the Frontier policy "is exactly the reason that some national-level guidance" is needed for social distancing on airlines and in airports.

Godwin said crowded planes and long flights create the greatest risk for spreading the virus. She said the expectation that air travel will recover slowly is a good thing — it will give airlines and health officials time to decide the best steps to protect travelers and airline and airport workers.

US health officials stress the importance of social distancing, and they also recommend that people wear cloth face coverings in public because some who are infected don't feel symptoms and could unknowingly spread the virus.

Source : 9 News More   

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Garbo sobs as judge clears him over Sydney grandmother's death

A garbage truck driver has been found not guilty of dangerous driving after he fatally struck a Sydney grandmother pushing a pram.

Garbo sobs as judge clears him over Sydney grandmother's death

A garbage truck driver has been cleared of dangerous driving when he hit and killed a Sydney grandmother pushing her grandson in a pram.

Teremoana Tekii broke down as he was found not guilty in the NSW District Court today, more than two years after the Dee Why accident.

In the moments before she was crushed, Hane Mathieson, 58, pushed the toddler's pram to safety.

She died at the scene from her injuries.

Mr Tekii told police afterwards that he didn't see her and he only hit the brakes because he saw the pram in a rear vision mirror.

The Crown alleged he was reversing too quickly for the location and should have used the two other loaders seated in the truck.

But Judge John North ruled he did everything necessary which included beeping his horn and using his mirrors.

"It was reasonable to reverse the truck on this day while taking appropriate care."

Mr Tekii sobbed as the verdict was read out.

His lawyer released a statement saying he is "extremely relieved" at the not guilty verdict.

"He and his family have been under an immense level of stress and anxiety throughout the criminal justice process and they are very pleased with the outcome," his solicitor Peter O'Brien wrote.

"Mr Tekii would like to express that he is very sorry for the Mathieson family's loss and he hopes that her grandson, who was not injured in the tragic accident, grows up to be big and strong."

He is still facing the less serious charge of negligent driving which will be dealt with at a later date.

Source : 9 News More   

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