On Friday, we shared a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noting customer surveys implying that Denver's Frontier Airlines could be renamed New Air -- one of the lamest monikers in the history of lame monikers.
Turns out that's not the case: Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuk says the New Air handle was used in customer surveys as a way of referring to an unnamed new airline, as opposed to any suggestion that it be the actual name bestowed on Frontier and its sister airline, Midwest -- a relationship established by Republic Airways Holding's acquisition of Frontier last year.
Still, Kowalchuk concedes that another name could indeed wind up on Frontier planes -- and if that happens, he believes locals will still look on it as the city's hometown airline.
Kowalchuk emphasizes that no final decision has been made -- but the options of naming the Frontier-Midwest combo Frontier, Midwest or something else entirely "pretty much cover the waterfront." He believes the pick will be made "relatively soon -- likely by the end of March or early the following month." Moreover, it will draw upon findings from the aforementioned surveys, which he says are providing a great deal of in-depth detail.
"The research project has been going on for quite some time -- at least a month, I believe -- and it's been a very significant effort," he points out. "More than 30,000 surveys were sent out. And it's not a short survey. What we're trying to do is to determine the characteristics of services that customers and potential customers find desirable, first of all -- and if they find it desirable, what they're willing to pay for."
The confusion over the names comes as the result of a section that asks survey-takers to consider deals from three real airlines -- sometimes Frontier or Midwest, other times real-life competitors -- in addition to a new airline designated New Air.
"Say, for example, we have a one-and-a-half-hour flight from point A to point B, and we have four airlines -- and those airlines are presented on the screen with a price for a flight and the services or amenities that are offered for those flights," he says. "By using fairly sophisticated survey and research development tools, and knowledge of research, we're able to make a whole range of different determinations."
Despite the length of the survey, Kowalchuk says about 20 percent of those individuals who've received them are turning them in completed -- a very healthy rate. As such, the results will be scientifically valid, not just indicative of trends. In addition, Frontier employees will also be asked to fill out surveys, albeit ones that are different to some degree from those regular folks are taking.
Regarding the receptiveness of those employees to the prospect of a name change, Kowalchuk notes, "One of the things that's natural in a time of change is that you want as little change as possible. And employees here, many of them have worked for Frontier for fifteen years -- and some of them were even working for the first Frontier. So naturally, they have a bias to the Frontier name, just as Midwest employees have a bias to the Midwest name.
"But something everybody realizes -- and this is something [former CEO] Sean Menke mentioned in letters to employees when we were going through bankruptcy -- is that this wasn't going to be the same airline coming out of bankruptcy as it was going in. And while the name isn't something he specifically addressed, those changes could come in the company's brand. That's why there is such considerable effort being expended on making sure that what we do is the right thing to do."
What about that hometown question? Will customers in Colorado still look on the airline with pride if it's not known as Frontier?
"The fact that we have and will maintain a significant base in Denver and in Colorado, and that we have the loyalty of our customers, is what we believe makes us a hometown airline," he says. "Just because the management of Republic, and that portion of the management that's responsible for Frontier, resides in Indianapolis doesn't make us an Indianapolis airline. We continue to pay attention to our markets here in Denver and Colorado, and that's what makes the difference."
The data will determine if he's right. Survey says...
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