Frontier Pilot: Airline's Mistreatment of Staffers Could Lead to "Major Mishap"

Frontier pilots at a December 2017 protest in Denver.
Frontier pilots at a December 2017 protest in Denver. Photo by Ana Lopez
A Frontier pilot says that the way the Denver-based carrier treats its employees at every level, including recently canceling all pilot vacations for the third month in a row, has reached such an extreme that the results could be tragic.

In his words, the situation is "so hostile and increasingly seen as futile by the pilot group, flight attendants, mechanics and gate and ground personnel that Frontier is setting itself up for a major mishap."

We've reached out to Frontier Airlines spokespersons about these new reports of employee dissatisfaction and more on multiple occasions beginning in late August but have yet to receive a reply. If and when a company representative gets back to us, we'll share the response in this space.

The tensions between Frontier workers and the carrier have been ratcheting upward for months. In June, Captain Alan Christie, a local representative of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), stressed that the women and men who fly planes for the airline are 100 percent ready to strike over a slew of factors, including salaries that are more than 40 percent below industry standards, by his estimate. However, they're currently precluded from walking off the job under the federal Railway Labor Act unless the National Mediation Board declares an impasse, which it has thus far declined to do.

The following month, ALPA sued in an attempt to force Frontier to bargain in good faith — something Richard Oliver, speaking for the airline as part of his previous position in the media department (he recently transitioned to a new role), insisted that the company has been doing. In an email to Westword, he wrote, "We continue to be engaged in negotiations with our pilots for a new contract and have exchanged several proposals under the guidance of the National Mediation Board. Frontier is disappointed that ALPA is spending energy spreading false narratives rather than attempting to reach a new collective bargaining agreement that is fair, sustainable and provides security for everyone."

File photo
Meanwhile, inside sources who spoke to Westword on condition of anonymity earlier this summer suggested that conditions for gate agents, ticket-counter personnel and the like who work for Frontier at Denver International Airport and other facilities around the country are at least as bad as what's being experienced by pilots, if not worse. Pay is so low, they told us, that they refer to the DIA gigs as "Cup o' Noodles" jobs, because that's the only thing employees can afford to eat. The result is frequent turnover that, in the opinion of some observers, helps explain why Frontier keeps landing at or near the bottom of airline-quality rankings.

In regard to pilots, a July newsletter from ALPA to union members outlined what it characterized as "management's assault" on employees hired to perform these key jobs. One section talks about the cancellation of all vacations in August — something that was done again in September and October. Another references threats to discipline pilots with termination for "excessive absences"; the pilot source says one person was terminated for using vacation time to care for sick parents. And ALPA was also told it couldn't represent probationary pilots in what are known as Section 13 hearings — sessions investigating possible shortcomings of pilots who've been with the carrier for less than a year — as had previously been common practice.

Click to access Frontier management's probationary pilot letter and the union's response.

More relevant to travelers have been what the pilot source refers to as "flight cancellation rates upward of thirty flights a day due to maintenance issues." The pilot chalks up the reasons for the cancellations to an inability to keep and retain employees at all levels of the company due to "woefully inadequate compensation."

The source decries "the overall emotional state of Frontier pilots, combined with industry-bottom maintenance practices, to include chronic over-utilization of aircraft, industry-bottom mechanic pay and, hence, understaffing of maintenance operations, which leads to, at best, operational delays and, at worst, precarious scenarios due to mechanics being underpaid, overworked and very angry."

Irate customers at one of Frontier's Denver International Airport service counters circa December 2016, during a period of delays that caused a public-relations hit for the carrier. - @MOBERMILLER
Irate customers at one of Frontier's Denver International Airport service counters circa December 2016, during a period of delays that caused a public-relations hit for the carrier.
The pilot is "100 percent certain" that if officials with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Mediation Board took the potential impact of these issues on safety as seriously as they should, "Frontier would be grounded."

In the source's view, "the pilot group is at a breaking point. It is difficult to impossible to operate as a professional when one knows that he/she is earning one-third of the total compensation of our peers for flying the same aircraft...and having our vacations taken away to cover up irrational and dangerous operational scheduling predicated not on safety but on unabashed greed by an executive team that has proven to be mediocre at best when it comes to running an airline — reference [2016's] DIA Frontier operational meltdown."

Frontier isn't the only entity with which the pilot is frustrated. "The National Mediation Board has refused to act and allow the Frontier pilot group and ALPA to enter into self-help as is allowed by the Railway Labor Act despite the GROSS inequality of pay for Frontier pilots...and mechanics, flight attendants and gate/ground personnel."

The decision to speak about these matters was made to provide "a more complete picture of just how dangerous operations at Frontier have become," the pilot allows. "The traveling public deserves to know that the folks who are wholly responsible for the safe execution of flight events — pilots, mechanics and flight attendants — are all paid at 50 percent of their peers, and as a result, it is not a matter of if, but when, the operation falls apart."
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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