Frontier scrambles to spin Southwest's AirTran acquisition in airline survival of the fittest

I contacted Frontier spokeswoman Lindsey Purves at 6:17 a.m. yesterday for a comment about Southwest Airlines' acquisition of AirTran and what it might mean for what's still portrayed as Denver's hometown airline. But the statement Purves came up with nearly nine hours later doesn't even mention Denver.

Here it is:

We certainly expected to see further consolidation in the industry and we look at it as an opportunity for Frontier Airlines. While we expect Southwest's market share to grow considerably in our Milwaukee hub as a result of the acquisition, we know that our product -- with friendly customer service, newer aircraft, affordable fares, advanced seat assignments, DIRECTV on all Airbus flights and STRETCH seating -- will continue to differentiate us in Milwaukee and every other market we fly. We currently offer the Milwaukee community nonstop access to 35 destinations across the United States and Mexico, more than any other carrier serving General Mitchell International Airport.

This is a notably tone-deaf response, but not an especially surprising one. Since Frontier's August 2009 acquisition by Republic Airways Holdings, more and more of the company's operations and resources have shifted to Indianapolis, Republic's original HQ, and Milwaukee, the base for the former Midwest Airlines. True, the Frontier name reigned supreme, as did the animal mascots Frontier employees rallied to save. But Denver's been backburnered -- an unfortunate turn of events for which American Constitution Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo has tried to blame his main rival, Democratic frontrunner/Denver mayor John Hickenlooper.

Truth be told, Southwest, which attempted to buy Frontier last year only to be bested by Republic, is the low-cost carrier with momentum these days -- and the AirTran purchase will give the airline many of the attributes it once hoped Frontier would provide.

DIRECTV service and STRETCH seating may appeal to travelers watching their pennies, but no charges for bags sounds considerably nicer. With that in mind, Frontier will likely have to look long and hard at its fee structure if it's going to compete with the new Southwest/AirTran combo -- and not just in Milwaukee.

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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