An Ode to Frontier Airlines, and Melancholy | Westword

An Ode to Frontier Airlines, and Melancholy

The fundamental sadness of flying the formerly friendly skies, with apologies to John Keats.
Frontier: where the seats just scream comfort. At least, I think that's what they're screaming.
Frontier: where the seats just scream comfort. At least, I think that's what they're screaming. Teague Bohlen
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No, no, go not to Frontier Airlines again, neither twist your head to see Grizwold or Jack on the tail of your mournful psyche, nor make Ferndale the Pygmy Owl a partner in your travel's sorrows. For takeoff to landing will come too frustratingly, and drown the wakeful anguish of the airborne soul.

So, yeah: I tried to fly Frontier again. It used to be my airline of choice back in the day. I even had the Frontier credit card and was racking up the miles — but that all ended back in 2012 when the airline shifted to its ultra-low-cost model. My flight on Frontier over the recent holiday weekend was my first on the airline in a while — long enough that I’d forgotten just how painful it can be. I wanted to fly into a small regional airport in the Midwest — which meant I wouldn’t have to drive a couple of hours down from Chicago after disembarking from the plane and renting a car at Midway — and good ol’ Frontier was my only direct option from Denver. So I gave it another shot.

It served only to remind me why I wouldn’t do that again.

Yes, the trip out was convenient. It was nice departing from Terminal A in Denver International Airport, which might represent only a minute or so of time savings, but the less I have to be on yet a third mode of travel (trains, planes and automobiles, right?), the better. And yes, I very much enjoyed not having to endure Chicago traffic at rush hour, or listening to small-town radio on the corn-and-bean-field drive south while wishing I’d popped for the satellite radio in my mid-size that the rental car agency was trying to pass off as a full. (The rental car industry needs to answer for how anything that’s not an enclosed four-wheel Vespa is apparently a full-sized vehicle these days, even though there are three classes in between that seem to serve only as margin of error for booking reservations.)

But that convenience wasn’t enough to make up for the built-in inconvenience that the “no-frills” airlines have the nerve to boast about, as if it’s a feature and not a bug. To be fair, Frontier probably gets the worst of it, since it used to be sort of all about frills. Not luxury, mind you — but a dash of marketing and some shiny bits, bells and whistles that make it cool anyway. Frontier used to be like a Samsung fridge: You know that sucker’s going to last maybe a few years, tops, but it has a cool middle drawer and that extra glass door panel in the front so you can see what your milk is up to as you pass through the kitchen.

Part of the problem is that it all still feels very much like a bait-and-switch deal. Frontier offers a super-low price that you can only get if you’re part of the Discount Den, which costs money to join (not included in the dollar amount of the ticket, though of course once you’re part of the club, it’s free until renewal next year). That base cost includes literally nothing more than a guarantee that you will be transported physically from one airport to another, naked as the day you were born, at least in travel terms. No bags larger than a purse. No food or drink. A seat that not even a city bus would envy. (But at least they don’t recline, which prevents any murderous intent for the inconsiderate indolence of the person in front of us.) No entertainment options at all, no wi-fi available either free or to purchase, not even power outlets to keep our gadgets charged. Forget TVs in the seat backs — it's time to count hairs on the head of the non-reclining person in front of you.

click to enlarge tray Frontier
We need a new word for this. Perch? Drinkless coaster? Obligatory surface?
Teague Bohlen
Forget the trays in those seat backs, too. They’re at this point really just a gesture, cheap little flip-down things that serve absolutely no purpose other than — as my flight out proved — to give toddlers something to toggle with their feet, up-smack-down-smack-up-smack-down-smack, while their harried dad tells them over and over “We don’t do that, okay?”

Listen, Frontier: if you’re going to get rid of trays, get rid of trays. That will suck, too, but it’s less insulting than just making them smaller and smaller until we don’t notice they’re gone. Frontier’s trays are already smaller than an iPad. At some point, you're just insulting the meaning of the word “tray.”  

But everything dwells in beauty, a beauty that must die, including the era of the seat-back tray. After all, they were originally meant for the in-flight meals that we’d get on flights over a couple of hours. Those are long gone on every airline, of course, just like the romance once attached to flying. As much as late-night TV comics joked about airplane food, everyone I talk to still misses it, if only as something to break the leg-aching monotony of sitting in a seat for hours at a time. (I almost wrote “hours at a stretch” there, but "stretch" is a word that should never be used in connection with commercial airplane seating, where it’s somehow come to mean “slightly less uncomfortable than the knee-compression torture we call 'standard seating.'”)

Still, I can actually get on board with the no-snacks thing — on short flights, no one really needs pretzels or peanut-free Chex
mix or weird biscotti. (Frontier used to offer cookies, dammit, and I do miss those.) But come on — isn’t it a law that we should get water? Because we didn’t on my departure flight, and we should have. And I don’t mean tank water from whatever suspicious reservoir you have back there in the galley. (We were offered water on my return trip, but that may have been because the flight took an extra three hours-plus for three completely separate reasons, two of which sounded like airline speak for "We don't want to go into it.") Even just the offer of little shorty water bottles would be something — small cost, but a big dividend in customer satisfaction.

And bags. Ah, bags. It’s probably one of the main reasons Frontier competitor Southwest is still doing well, the simplicity and comparative generosity of its bag policy. It’s bad enough that we get charged for both checked bags and carry-ons on Frontier, but what counts as a carry-on seems to change from flight to flight. Or, more precisely, gate agent to gate agent. A regular-sized backpack should be a personal item, but it's often not. So it’s not just the policy; it’s the inconsistency, too. But mainly the policy. Because it still sucks.
click to enlarge frontier sign
This ridiculous policy has nothing to do with carbon emissions, you disingenuous scalpers.
Teague Bohlen
And speaking of bags, Frontier, a couple of things: A forty-pound max weight on a bag is stupid-low, especially at your pricing. It doesn’t seem like much, but I saw several people in check-in having to unpack enough of their suitcases to make that forty-pound limit, and it’s clear this was meant to force people to pay for an equally inflated second bag. These aren’t “frills.” Being able to get sufficient underwear to my destination should not be a perk. 

One more request, Frontier: Please stop reminding passengers that we should use the under-the-seat space for our carry-ons. We’re paying ridiculous money to have that carry-on, and if I want to put my backpack in the overhead compartment to make room for my feet under the seat in front of me, I should be able to do that without feeling like someone’s going to give me a flight demerit or whatever stick you have to inspire me to follow a dumb rule. God knows you don’t have a carrot. And if you did, you’d definitely charge me for it.

So I bid you adieu, Frontier, once more. At least until I’ve unlearned the lessons enumerated above, and aching travel needs nigh, and you again turn to poison while the bee-mouth sips. And then, our wandering souls will taste the sadness of your former might, dream of up-front pricing and on-board entertainment and warm chocolate cookies, and be among your cloudy trophies hung as you continue your low fares done poorly.
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