Pros: Good prices, comfortable seats
Cons: Nickel and dime attitude, mediocre performance, much more...
I got the chance to fly Frontier Airlines a couple times this year, taking my daughter on two ski trips to Colorado. We flew Frontier because they had direct, non-stop flights into Denver (their hub airport) and because they undercut the fares being offered by United (the only other carrier with similar direct flights). The experience was fairly typical of what passengers find with domestic travel these days: nothing spectacularly bad happened on our trip, but the service was generally perfunctory, lots of passenger-surly policies and business practices were in evidence, one out of our 4 flights was more than one hour late (2 were 15 minutes late), and aggravating nickel-and-diming was ridiculously pervasive.
On the whole, Frontier is no better than any other domestic carrier, all of which are generally below par. There are a couple things I like about Frontier, and plenty of things I dislike.
What I liked about flying Frontier...
* they gave me a lower fare than United
* experienced NO customer service problems
* attractive looking web site
* better seat than most domestic airlines
What I did not like about flying Frontier...
* $15 surchage for FIRST bag
* surcharges for seat assigned prior to day of flight
* late flight
* bad in-flight entertainment
* can't be bothered to take cash for in-flight snacks
* charges for in-flight snacks
* VERY high itinerary change fees
* unacceptably early check-in requirements
My Experience Flying Frontier...
Winter can be a rough time to fly with Frontier --- I know from looking at its performance stats. I was lucky though. We had clear flying days in both Austin and Denver and there were no obvious stress points to contend with. My experience was probably as favorable to Frontier as it could ever be. I'd booked weeks ahead of time to get the best fares, purchased online, and checked-in using the online checkin so I'd have minimal fuss and muss at the airport. Arriving at Austin's Bergstrom airport was painless and there was no line at the Frontier counter. My pre-payment for the outrageously offensive first bag fee was verified and the bag whisked off to the plane. Airport staff were quick and I had no problems or complaints.
At the gate, no agents appeared until about 5 minutes before the plane was scheduled to depart. The flight was full, the plane was pretty with a picture of little parrots on the tail. My daughter thought they were cute and wanted to know their names. She's 9 years old, so it's okay for her to be a sap..that's the only reason I told her that Frontier has a sign just inside the door of each plane that tells you the name of the animal on the plane's tail fin. If anybody else told me the animals were cute, I'd have scowled. Scowl is such an excellent word, and so seldom used these days. If it weren't for my sunny disposition, I'd probably enjoy scowling at someone this afternoon. One of the flight attendants on our flight was very good at scowling. I think she needed a hug. I wouldn't have minded hugging her, because even though she wasn't really hot looking, she was at least lukewarm. I'll bet she'd have slapped me...kinky! Too bad I missed my chance.
Claiming baggage in Denver is inconvenient. You have to ride a silly little terminal train to the centralized baggage claim facility, which is oddly de-centralized with separate rooms and a poor system of marking baggage carrousels and communicating information to passengers. I don't believe I have ever in my life witnessed an airport with a more complex arrangement than Denver has. After you get your luggage you can stand outside in the sub-zero temperatures in these long tunnel shaped things that scoop up the icy arctic winds blowing across the plains --- which you can see stretching out before you for miles, and miles... It's probably not bad on a sunny July afternoon. Unfortunately, Denver is Denver, and icy wind is a whole lot more common than sunny afternoons. "C'est la Denver", as we c'est in France (hi, Barbara!). At least Frontier got my luggage to Denver...
Check-in at the Denver airport is chaotic. Frontier does not make good use of kiosks, which could (if used properly) handle the majority of check-in customers, most of whom do not need any special hand-holding. I've been most often flying American and Continental lately, and both of those airlines do FAR better at encouraging use of kiosks in the airport and getting passengers checked in quickly. Frontier in Denver is way behind the times and not proactive about speeding up their process. Adding insult to injury, the agent checking me in was inattentive, she first tried to tell me I hadn't pre-paid Frontier's outrageously offensive first bag fee, then when I showed her the printed receipt, she chuckles and says, "Oh, now I see it." and keeps going. Then she puts a luggage claim label on my suitcase that I can clearly see says "Sheila Nelson". Being unaware of any recent sex-change operations on my part, I pointed out the error. Another chuckle and correction. Sorry. Too err is human, two errs is boneheaded.
How Does Frontier Airlines Perform As a Rule...
Some reviewers here rant and rave about one late flight, but in my opinion, weather happens, and unexpected glitches occur. The real issue is how well an airline's management deals with uncertainty and whether they are able to effectively deal with the unexpected and keep things within their control from spiraling out of control. This is easier to assess than you might think. All U.S. airlines report standardized performance statistics to the government and monthly performance about customer-facing performance issues are publicly available. (See http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov). Taken over time, uniform statistics provide a more accurate picture of an airlines' performance than reading easily skewed individual consumer reviews.
Most U.S. carriers these days have unacceptable on-time performance (acceptable being 80% on time). No airline operating in 48 contiguous states has good performance (good being 90% on time).
Frontier gets close to the 80% mark, with an overall on-time record of 79.0% for 2009. That's not terrible, but with Frontier you also need to factor in occasionally wild fluctuations and unpredictability, especially during cold weather months when the airline's decision to base operations in Denver can severely hammer their on-time performance. Some summer months they can run almost 90% on time, but the winter months really slam them with performance dropping to about 60%. On the flights I flew, there were no weather-related delays: the flight that was 1 hour late was leaving out of Austin on a day just as warm and sunny as my personality.
One performance factor on which Frontier deserves high-fives is baggage handling. During 2008, they managed to cut the number of lost bags by almost half. Somewhat offsetting that though is an uptick in the percentage of Frontier passengers filing complaints with the DoT. Win some, lose some...
About Frontier's Fleet...
Frontier flies a fairly young fleet of Airbus A319s and A318s. The planes are safe, modern, attractive and generally clean. I like the feel of their leather seats in the all-coach cabin and I especially like that their average seat pitch, at 33 inches, gives passengers a squish more space than American, Northwest, United, or Delta.
Make no mistake, from a pure "seat of the pants" perspective, the Frontier seat is a more comfortable place to sit than the seats in aircraft flown by many of Frontier's competitors.
I thought the overhead bins looked a bit grungey inside, with scratches all over their painted metal interior areas and the row and seat identification is unusable, being perched high up on the undersides of the overhead bins so you can't see the row numbers while walking down the aisle. This is an obvious human factors no-no, and I'm surprised Frontier got it sooooo wrong because even bush airlines flying ancient DC-3s in third world countries don't seem to be able to screw up something as simple as putting seat numbers where people can see them.
About Frontier's In-Flight Entertainment...
In-flight entertainment on Frontier is superficially modern, but it's a customer-hostile profit center that's hard-to-use, expensive, unreliable, and that provides no base level product that's fee-free. I give it a F- grade....it totally sucks and it's a rip-off (when it's even working).
The "pro" side of getting ripped off by their bad entertainment system is that you can choose how to get ripped off. You can pay a sky-high $6 fee to watch the same basic DirecTV channels you watch at home for about a nickel per hour, or you can pay sky-high $8-9 fee to watch lame month-old movies the day they get to HBO.
Excuse me if I don't get excited by Frontier's in-flight entertainment, but having to swipe a credit card to overpay for the same lame offerings I can get on cable at home is NOT an improvement over having a single FREE movie piped through the aircraft for any passenger who cares to watch.
Frontier's solution is NOT better!!!
Adding insult to injury is the fact that Frontier's DirecTV and in-flight movie system is much more complicated than the straightforward system used by better carriers. On the 4 flights my daughter and I flew, the system was totally unavailable on 2 flights, the screen on my seat back was non-functional even for the safety video on one flight, and the movie my daughter begged me to watch had a running time of 2:19, while our scheduled flight time as just under 2 hours and the movies don't start until about 15 minutes into the flight. Simple math tells you that you WILL miss the end of your paid-way-to-much-for movie.
Your best bet for quality in-flight entertainment on Frontier is to just bring a book, or a traveling companion who can carry on a good conversation. Lord knows the in-flight entertainment is PITIFUL at Frontier!
About the Denver Hub....
Denver International Airport is hardly my favorite airport in the United States. It's the nation's youngest major airport, but like most youngsters, it's often rude and unruly. Someday I'll write a boring, dull, lengthy diatribe about the myriad perils of flying through Denver, but that day isn't today, so I'll just tick off a few things that tick me off:
* bad winter weather
* inconvenient location far from downtown
* shuttle bus stops are frigidly cold wind tunnels that scoop up arctic winds to freeze arriving passengers
* poorly designed baggage claim carrousel areas that embodies worst features of centralized and de-centralized layouts
* terminal shuttle train system --- impossible to walk between check-in, gates, and baggage claim
* de-centralized rental car system makes it impossible for arriving passengers to know who does & doesn't have cars available
About Frontier's Passenger-Surly Business Practices....
Two words: nickel, dime.
I'd add "perfunctory impersonal service", but that would be more than two words, so let's just focus today on Frontier's nasty annoyance of nickel and diming.
Frontier charges fees for everything imaginable. $15 for a first checked bag. Variable fees of $3 on up for in-flight snacks. $6 to watch barebones DirecTV, or $8-9 to watch an in-flight movie. Change fees are an unconscionable $150!!!! (Why can't supposedly cheapo carriers learn a lesson or two from Southwest...people RESPECT Southwest for having flexibility in re-schedule policies and for NOT nickel and diming them.) Southwest proves that a company can be cheap without being *ssholes. Frontier has not learned this lesson.
Believe it or not, Frontier's fee listing even includes an add-on of up to $100 for passengers transporting deer antlers! Serious business!!
You thought charging for an aisle seat was stupid (and it is), who would have EVER imagined there'd be so many people carrying antlers that you'd need to publish a fee for it?!?! Wonder if they'll update their fee schedule after I fly them next time --- I'm planning to carry on a paper mache mastodon tusk.
Adding insult to injury, Frontier can't even be bothered to accept cash. They actually INSIST on passengers using credit cards for small, $3 and $5 purchase in-flight!!! Outrageous! Frontier definitely has a corporate attitude of "Customer service? Never heard of it!"
Frontier's Web Site...
Frontier's web site (www.frontierairlines.com) is well-designed.
Badly implemented, but well-designed.
Kudos to Frontier's marketing people: their color choices evoke feelings of freshness and environmental conscious. The featuritis and busy-ness of other travel web sites is refreshingly absent from Frontier's web site. Major function areas are clearly labeled and intuitive. I can easily find where things of interest to me, a typical traveler, should be found. Sadly though, that bad implementation really keeps me from LIKING this web site.
The bad implementation is painfully visible when passengers try to do actual business on the site. Their error checking is, quite simply, sloppy and unprofessional and the date constraints stupidly restrictive.
OFTEN, typing your city name or IATA airport code in the "Flying From" field will fail. Occasionally, identical input gets accepted, but often it simply fails for inexplicable reasons. Also, it's impossible to type a date in the "Leaving" and "Returning" fields --- the site actually FORCES you to use a cumbersome calendar tool. This is annoyance to many users, and more seriously, it's an outright obstacle to the site's being usable by a handicapped user with certain input device constraints. The site also loses information that should be persistent far more often than is acceptable, causing further errors and a whole lot of customer aggravation as they have to re-enter the same information over, and over, and over...
Try pricing a few itineraries! If you're a normal human being, I'll bet you run into walls and problems a WHOLE lot more often than you do using other airlines sites or common travel sites like Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia.
There's just no "hmmm", or "maybe" about it. Frontier's web site is way behind the curve when it comes to quality and usability.
Flying with Frontier was okay. The plane landed, and I got to my destination on the day I expected...suitcase too. The airline therefore meets minimal expectations. That doesn't mean Frontier is a good airline though. Their incessant nickel and diming is a huge problem and by itself is reason enough to prefer airlines that do less of it (like Southwest) over Frontier. Frontier is basically a very, very average airline with a better prices than average, fewer flight options than average, a worse web site than average, customer-friendliness that's significantly below average, and a below average hub in Denver.
Frankly, I don't find a whole lot to love about Frontier...as always, you're free to come to other conclusions.
Closely Related Reading...
You may also want to read about Frontier's frequent flyer program:
* Frontier Airlines EarlyReturns