Transportation

Frontier's Airline Quality Rating Is a Good News-Bad News Situation

A screen capture from a promotional video for Frontier Airlines.
A screen capture from a promotional video for Frontier Airlines. YouTube
The 32nd annual Airline Quality Rating report from Wichita State University offers both good news and bad news for Frontier Airlines. The Denver-based carrier's scores weren't the worst of the ten major airlines analyzed in the May 11 study, as had been the case a number of times in the past, landing instead in seventh place. But that bottom spot was occupied by Spirit Airlines, with which Frontier is currently in the process of merging.

Over the past decade, Frontier's AQR scores weren't the stuff of an honors list. In 2014, for example, the airline received the most consumer complaints of the fifteen major carriers operating at the time. And that ignominy was followed by last-place finishes in 2017 and 2019 for combined scores in all the report's primary categories, which include on-time performance, involuntary-denied boardings, baggage service and customer satisfaction.

Frontier finished tenth out of ten airlines in the 2020 edition, too, but upped its game in 2021, the year tracked by the new study. Here's the rundown, with each carrier's 2020 rankings in parentheses.
1. Southwest (1)

2. Hawaiian (9)

3. Delta (3)

4. Allegiant (2)

5. Alaska (4)

6. United (8)

7. Frontier (10)

8. JetBlue (6)

9. American (7)

10. Spirit (5)
This graphic offers more of a 30,000-foot view — scores for each year between 2014 and 2021.
A move up the roster in 2021 didn't necessarily mean that performance had improved in general, though. The report's introduction points out that overall quality dipped industry-wide, with fewer planes arriving on time, more baggage being mishandled and more ticketed passengers getting bumped from flights in 2021 than in 2020.

The study's authors attribute the bumpiness of the ride to fallout from COVID-19. In 2020, just 295 million passengers took to the air, compared to 790 million the previous year, before rebounding to 540 million in 2021. But layoffs necessitated by the pandemic led to shortages of pilots and other ancillary personnel even as demand increased, and last year, the industry struggled to get back up to speed.

An example: Only two airlines had more on-time arrivals in 2021 than in 2020, and neither Frontier nor Spirit were among them. Frontier went from 83.9 percent of flights landing as scheduled in 2020 to 76.6 percent in 2021; Spirit's 76.7 percent on-time mark in 2021 was significantly down from 86.6 percent in 2020.

According to the section of the report devoted to Frontier, the airline, which currently boasts more than 3,000 employees and over 275 daily flights, had the highest number of involuntary denied boardings, at 0.95 per every 10,000 passengers. Its highest ranking was for baggage service, finishing in third place, with on-time arrivals in seventh place. It rated eighth in customer satisfaction, with 5.78 complaints per 100,000 passengers — a big improvement from 2020, when Frontier registered 49.30 complaints per 100,000 passengers.

The Spirit page of the study has fewer bright spots: fifth in baggage service, sixth in on-time arrivals, seventh in fewest denied boardings, and dead last in customer satisfaction. Spirit's customer complaints rose from 9.6 per 100,000 in 2020 to 11.45 per 100,000 in 2021.

Frontier has not responded to Westword's request for comment on its latest AQR scores, as well as those of Spirit. Click to read the Airline Quality Ratings report for 2022.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts