Five Ridiculous Fees Charged by Frontier — and Five More Possibilities

On the heels of a report ranking Frontier Airlines higher this year than last for on-time arrivals — yay, we’re now number 12 out of 13! — Denver’s hometown airline is holding a job fair today at Holiday Inn and Suites/Denver International Airport to new flight attendants. Presumably, this additional work force will be in charge of holding passengers upside down by the ankles and shaking them until the change falls from their pockets.

These employees will also have to monitor exactly who in the cabin has paid for exactly what — because with all the add-ons and costs and fees and whatnot available to every ticket-holder on any given Frontier plane, there are as many variables to flight service as there are on a tenth grade algebra final. (Have you ever watched passengers get the bad news at the gate that their bag does not qualify as a free personal item, but a carry-on that will cost them $60, because the fee wasn't paid at check-in?). To help potential Frontier workers, and also offer the airline a few new revenue options, here are five services that Frontier already charges for — and a five potential but yet-untapped revenue streams that are in no way meant to be satirical.  
5. Actual Charge: $30 to $60 for anything that might correctly be called “luggage”
Any bag that can actually fit into the space under the increasingly minuscule seat in front of you cannot really be called “luggage.” It’s a purse. Not even a backpack or big briefcase will fit under there, unless you’re one of the few folks not carrying a laptop computer with you, and you bought said backpack or briefcase in the kids’ aisle at Target. (To avoid confusion — and probably lawsuits — Frontier no longer calls this freebie a bag, but a “personal item,” which makes it sound like you’re heading to a reality show and you’re bringing a lighter or a pocket comb.) If you have grown-up luggage like most of us, you’ll be paying a minimum of $30 to check a suitcase, or anywhere from $35 to $60 for a carry-on.

New Revenue Concept: $5 for pocket room
Look, Frontier, you own all the physical space on the plane, and you can’t just have passengers carrying things in their pants and coat pockets willy-nilly. Where would that end? If Frontier lets one person stuff an extra pair of underwear and a toothbrush in his slacks for free, the next thing you know you’ll be seeing people trying to carry a week’s change of clothes in various pockets on their person, and that’s just going to cut into your bottom line. By the way, that $5? That’s per pocket. Welcome aboard!

4. Actual Charge: $2 for non-alcoholic drinks
Remember when we used to complain that we didn’t get meals on flights anymore, and someone would always respond, “Just wait — they’ll be charging for the sodas next.” Well, that someone can pat themselves on the back, because it’s happened. Sure, you can get tepid water in a cup for free on Frontier, but anything that you might want to drink — including bottled water that doesn’t come from some mystery pitcher they filled somewhere in the back of the plane? That’s two bucks. I don’t want to pay for my measly half-can of ginger ale. I’ll just get nauseated for free.

New Revenue Concept: $10 for an actual human-sized tray
You know the fold-out trays that flights used to have, where passengers could set their drinks and still have room for a hand of cards or a book or the aforementioned actual meal airlines that used to serve? Yeah, those are gone, too, replaced by trays that can only be called trays in concept and without regard to scale. These are trays that would be too small for highchairs. So if customers want a larger tray — one upon which they won’t feel nervous perching their laptop and a drink at the same time — maybe they should just pony up.

3. Actual Charge; $99 for a tablet…for any sort of in-flight entertainment
Frontier used to advertise that it had Direct TV at every seat. The screens were mounted in the seatback headrests, and they were pretty awesome. At first, the entertainment was free. Then it cost $5 to $8, depending on the length of your flight. Then Frontier took the TVs away completely. There's no Internet, either, so you’d better load up that iPad with some cool stuff before you leave home. Frontier doesn’t even have an in-flight magazine. It’s all part of Denver’s hometown airline’s new motto: Frontier…sit there until we land and don’t move a fucking muscle.

New Revenue Concept: $12 for armrest control
As the distance between passengers and the seat in front of them declines, the distance between passengers and the people next to them becomes more important. Passengers will feel the need to spread out more from side to side when they’re unable to stretch out in front. Frontier can monetize this need by charging for the proprietary use of the shared armrest; this will have the double-benefit of specifying to whom that space belongs, though it will also carry the slight risk of the incitement of class warfare and/or armrest theft.

2. Actual charge: $15 and up for better seats
There have always been seats on airplanes that were better than others: The exit rows had more legroom, the seats up front got you off the plane earlier, with the bulkhead seats you weren’t staring at the back of someone’s head the whole flight, sending them “don’t recline, don’t recline” vibes. These were generally first-come, first-serve: If you booked early, you could call dibs. It was the airline version of calling shotgun. Then airlines realized they had a commodity that they could sell, and there went any hope of getting even the smallest thing for nothing while in the air. Now Frontier, like most airlines, calls this “preferred seating,” and won’t even standardize the price, figuring that it can charge more on longer flights when customers will be more desperate for even a modicum of comfort and will be willing to pay usury-level fees for what they used to get for free. Way to stay classy, Frontier.

New Revenue Concept: $50 to recline

For some passengers, it’s vitally important to be able to recline their transit-bus-quality seats a full two inches. Still, the chances are good that the person behind them has, you know, knees…and that said knees are the sort of knees that are required to obey the laws of physics as they pertain to the laws of space and time. But if customers really have to recline, then by all means they should do it. But it’ll cost them $50. (For added cost and a public relations boom, the airline can split the $50 with the passenger behind the recliner —or pay the $25 directly to their chiropractor.)

1. Actual Cost: At least $6 for any seat
Yes, it’s true: Securing any seat before getting to the airport will cost you more money on Frontier. Note that this option seems absolutely mandatory when booking travel; the online system seems to suggest that you have no choice in the matter but to buy a seat (as though this were an option, and there was an area on the plane where the budget-conscious could choose to stand for the duration of the haul to NYC). There's a link at the bottom of the reservation page that says "What if I don't select a seat?" in small font and lower case lettering...which takes you to a page that informs you that if you don't select a seat now, they'll assign you one randomly (hello, middle seats!) and "try to keep your party together," which is sort of the same as saying "we won't be able to keep your party together."  This isn't like Southwest's "cattle call" system, where at least everyone is in the same situation; if you want any control over where you sit, you have to spend at least $6 for even the most ignoble spot, and possibly more depending on your destination and other apparently arcane factors. Yes, this is ridiculous. No, Frontier doesn’t seem to see that it's unreasonable.  

New Revenue Concept: $100 for legroom
Not more legroom — any legroom. Frontier knows that passengers can sit cross-legged, or with their knees up, or whatever: We’ve all been seven years old.  It’s physically possible, so why not make it mandatory, Frontier? If people want to get all fancy and sit in a chair, they can damn well pay for the luxury.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen