9News's Kyle Clark has been engaging in a war of words with Denver-based Frontier ever since he needled the carrier for turning flight attendants into "awkward props during executives' speeches about the virtues of the ultra-low-cost airline," which has recently scored poorly in airline quality rankings. And when he learned that Frontier staffers had accessed his personal travel records in an apparent effort to learn if he was an Ann Coulter-esque whiner about air travel, Clark became even more exercised, as he makes clear in an interview below.
As Clark pointed out in a broadside aired last night, July 20, Frontier spokesman Jim Faulkner responded to his initial bit about flight attendants with a couple of insulting comments. One read, "I'm guessing you must have some sort of short man's disease," while the second asked, "Have you taken a good, long look at your picture above?... First of all, were you standing on a milk crate so that the camera could get your face?"
Faulkner was already on the way out at Frontier, Clark revealed. He was supposed to leave his gig today, but the correspondence above hastened his departure by a day. More concerning to Clark, though, were the actions of Faulkner's superior, Vice President of Communications Tyri Squyres, who "apologized for ordering the improper accessing of my travel history and reservations after I criticized the company,"
At the conclusion of his latest piece, Clark said, "For the record, when Frontier went searching my file to see if I'm a disgruntled passenger with an ax to grind, what they found is that I've been a regular customer for a decade without any complaints, even when they went to their ultra-low-cost model. And I was due to fly them again in a week. Needless to say, I booked different flights. They can keep my money."
He added that Frontier "should keep in mind when you or I raise a concern, responding with personal insults or peering through our personal records is not low-cost. That's low-class."
Clark offers even more details in the following Q&A, conducted via e-mail this morning.
Westword: When you first made a reference to flight attendants being used as props at press events, did you see it as more of a good-natured ribbing, as opposed to a serious attack on the airline?
Kyle Clark: My tone was humorous, but I was making a serious point. I hear from a lot of beleaguered front-line employees at Frontier who bear the brunt of customer frustration over Frontier executives' decisions. Using those employees as awkward props while the executives extolled the virtues of ultra-low-cost flying seemed symbolic.
Were you surprised by the response you received from Frontier?
Was I surprised Frontier's response was to call me a jerk with self-esteem issues due to "short man's disease"? No. It's Frontier. They didn't end up at the bottom of customer satisfaction rankings by accident.
Did you see the Frontier response as over the top, or did you shrug it off until you found that your personal travel information had been accessed?
We struggled with whether to make Frontier's response public. We decided that a corporation that would lash out with personal insults against someone who has a public platform would probably do a lot worse to other members of the public. That's why we decided to talk about it. The vitriolic e-mail didn't bother me. It was kind of amusing and gave us insight into how Frontier's corporate culture works. I was genuinely bothered, though, when Frontier's head of corporate communications told my boss they were reviewing my travel records to find out the "real reason" I'd criticized Frontier. To me, it's not so much a privacy concern, as those are Frontier's records, too, but it speaks to how low Frontier will go to discredit a critic. And judging by their customer satisfaction rankings, a lot of Coloradans are critics of Frontier....
Does the accessing of your personal travel information strike you as not simply an invasion of privacy, but a heavy-handed attack on a member of the press?
I think Frontier looking through my flight history trying to discredit my commentary was just Frontier being Frontier. There are a lot of serious threats against press freedom these days; I wouldn't consider this one. I'm more concerned about what this says about how Frontier would retaliate against a customer who doesn't have a media megaphone to push back.
Were you satisfied by Frontier's decision to say goodbye to its press spokesman a day earlier than usual and the apology you received from his superior?
I wasn't seeking an apology or any action by Frontier other than perhaps a pledge that it wouldn't retaliate against other customers who complain publicly. I don't think we've heard that yet. I don't blame the spokesman, Jim Faulkner. I think he was just reflecting the corporate culture at Frontier.
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Ann Coulter has recently gotten a lot of press for publicly criticizing Delta over flight matters. Do you see any common ground between the two of you?
Ann Coulter and I are both carbon-based life forms. The similarities probably end there.
You mentioned that you're not currently flying Frontier. Are you boycotting the airline permanently or temporarily?
I'm not boycotting Frontier, and I'm not a big believer in boycotts generally. I think boycotts tend to be about attention-seeking rather than creating actual change. I was booked on a Frontier flight in a week, but I don't feel comfortable flying with my family on an airline that went through my travel history trying to discredit my work. It's a shame, because I've flown Frontier for a decade. Frontier's front-line employees are wonderful people dealing with a really difficult corporate environment. I'd like to fly with those people again. Maybe after Frontier's next front-office shakeup.