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This past weekend Frontier Airlines canceled over 275 flights across its network. While that may not seem like a lot when 5,000 were canceled nationwide, 275 is an entire day’s schedule for the budget carrier! Horror stories like this are why I have a serious problem flying Frontier.

[Calling experts on flying Frontier with a family]

Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA-TAC)

Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA-TAC)

A single storm system at the airline’s Denver hub wreaked havoc for the entire network. Nearly a quarter of the airline’s departures are from Denver, and many of these departures were canceled or delayed. Other Frontier flights were affected as well, as Frontier was not able to position personnel to operate them. Aircraft, passengers, crew, and baggage were stranded. One of Frontier’s own captains blamed the operational breakdown on “executive mismanagement and misplaced focus on cost-cutting” by the airline. Ouch.

Check out this video of the insane line at DIA on Saturday.

The Problem Flying Frontier: When Irregular Operations Hit

Frontier advertises “low fares done right”. You pay for your fare, and then add on any extras you want. They offer incredible sales at times, which may seem like great value. And it is, at least until something goes wrong.

Frontier is not just cheap when it comes to fares, but it is also cheap when it comes to customer service. When a couple’s only recourse is to either get a refund or be re-booked three days later(!), something is terribly awry. You could at least offer them a hotel. Yes, airlines don’t oblige themselves to offer accommodation when delays are due to weather. But when a single storm can mess up operations so badly that you cannot find a seat for two passengers until half a week later, one begins to think it may be an operations problem and not a weather problem.

The problem flying Frontier is that the carrier’s network is limited, and offers fewer flights between destinations. If one is canceled, or an aircraft can’t position in time to provide service, customers may wait days before Frontier manages to get them to their destination. The entire system breaks down. Bags pile up. The customer service line becomes endless. For leisure travelers who saved up precious paid-time-off for the holidays, wasting days of it at the airport is simply unacceptable.

I flew in and out of Denver this past weekend on United, albeit after the worst of the storm. To my knowledge, one SFO-DEN flight was canceled by United on Saturday, causing some cascading overbooking of later flights. Even with these problems, however, United was able to get a substantial number of people on my flight to their DEN connections, by holding their Denver departures. The delays were certainly felt, but they weren’t crippling.

Contrast United’s roughly 11 daily departures versus Frontier’s 2 between SFO and DEN. One flight out of 11 canceled doesn’t seem too bad. One flight out of 2 would be devastating (one did get canceled yesterday). When irregular operations hit, Frontier simply doesn’t have the resources needed to quickly get things back on track.

Customers Get Left out in the Cold

Frontier makes no effort to re-book customers on flights with other carriers. They simply can’t afford it with their budget model. Thus, travelers either have to pay top dollar for last minute tickets with another carrier, or wait days to make it to their destination. Suddenly your $100 “savings” flying Frontier has now cost you an extra $300 for last-minute tickets on Southwest.

Frontier may offer “low fares done right”, but they also offer “customer service and operations done wrong”. If you value reliability, you may want to pass on that next Frontier fare sale. Remember that you get what you pay for, and that includes things beyond simply a seat and baggage allowance. There may be situations where flying Frontier makes sense (SEE: Calling experts on flying Frontier with a family), but during times where timing is critical and weather could be bad, I would avoid.

When irregular operations hit, the customer is hung out to dry. That’s the problem flying Frontier.

Header image courtesy of Razvan Socol via wikimedia commons under CC 3.0 license.

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