Frontier Airlines CEO Dave Siegel Resigns After Grim Consumer Complaints Report

Just yesterday, we told you about the awful performance of Frontier in a new federal survey tracking customer complaints.

The firm finished last among thirteen U.S. airlines in that category by a staggering margin.

Now, Dave Siegel, CEO of the company, which promotes itself as Denver's hometown carrier, has resigned.

A release from the company says he's stepping down for personal reasons, not due to the rising number of gripes from those who've flown Frontier and had negative experiences.

The timing of his departure suggests otherwise — but at least one airline-industry expert feels this may actually be true.

As Business Insider notes, Siegel took the helm at Frontier in January 2012. Since then, his most prominent media exposure beyond the business and aviation press came in October 2014, when a Frontier plane was taken out of service after a possibly symptomatic Ebola patient traveled on it. No additional transmissions of the disease were traced to the plane.

In the meantime, Siegel led the charge to transform Frontier into what's known in the business as an ultra-low-cost carrier — meaning that its main ticket prices are typically lower than those offered by most competitors, but additional charges are imposed for services that were once free.

These include seat selection, carry-on bags and lots more.

Have these changes irritated many of Frontier's longtime customers? That's certainly one explanation for the startling spike in complaints.

We've included the latest U.S. Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Report below in its entirety. But here's a graphic showing that Frontier went from 2.52 customer complaints per 100,000 enplanements as of March 2014 to 15.84 in March 2015 — a more than six-fold increase.

Frontier's complaint total is more than 35 percent higher than the next lowest finisher, Spirit Airlines, and over 34 times worse than the airline with the least customer complaints per 100,000 enplanements, Southwest Airlines.

Nonetheless, Frontier's press release about Siegel's departure makes no mention of the sorry digits. It reads:
Dave Siegel, who has been the chief executive officer of privately held Frontier Airlines for the last three years, has informed the Airlines’ Board of Directors that for personal reasons he will step down as the airline’s CEO, effective immediately.

Emphasizing the need for continuity in the repositioning of Frontier, the Board of Directors announced the creation of an Office of the Chief Executive, which, under the Board’s oversight, will direct the airline. The Office will be made up of Bill Franke, Chairman, and Barry Biffle, President, who will report to Franke.

Franke will continue to focus on strategic and financial matters and key supplier relationships. Biffle will manage the airline day-to-day, and will work with Franke on strategic matters.
Franke said, “Management will work to improve the airline’s operations and our customers’ service experience, both priorities to the Board of Directors. Barry and his team will be focused on these objectives.”

Franke is the managing partner of Indigo Partners LLC, an investment firm specializing in aviation investments. Frontier is an Indigo portfolio company.

Does the "personal reasons" explanation represent mere spin? Probably not, according to Mike Boyd, an aviation-industry expert quizzed by the Denver Business Journal

According to Boyd, the high number of complaints aimed at Frontier is less important than the bottom line — and Siegel told the DBJ last month that the airline had returned to profitability last year under the restructuring he oversaw.

“As long as they make money, I don’t think the complaint issue is really indicative of a badly run airline,” Boyd tells the publication. “It’s indicative of a different business model and of a clientele who may not understand the new rules.”

Perhaps not. But the negative publicity generated by Frontier's soaring customer complaints will certainly be on the agenda for the executives Siegel is leaving behind.

Here's the aforementioned Air Travel Consumer Report.

Air Travel Consumer Report.pdf

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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.
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