Those who frequently fly on Frontier Airlines know the feeling: I’d scored incredibly cheap tickets from Denver to Phoenix – just $75 round trip – but I also hoped to God that I wouldn’t pay for it in other ways.
It’s no secret that the Denver-based airline has a horrendous track record in reliability and customer service. In the last consumer ratings report released by the Department of Transportation, Frontier went from dead last in on-time arrivals in 2015 to eleventh out of twelve major carriers this year (what an improvement!).
But even if, like me, you’ve already experienced plenty of delayed Frontier flights, it’s just so hard to pass up those seductive “Den Deals.” Only $75 for a round trip to Phoenix?! Hell, yeah! So what if the seats don’t recline, you’re given an ash tray to put food on and you’ve stuffed a backpack into your limited leg room to avoid paying carry-on fees?
Boy, did I and thousands of other angry Frontier customers pay for that decision this past weekend.
My own Frontier experience began on Friday, December 16, when an incoming storm delayed my flight to Phoenix for two hours. Whatever. That wasn’t too bad.
But my experience on the way back Sunday suggested how Frontier’s problems compounded to epic proportions over the course of the weekend.
I’d just passed through TSA security at Phoenix Sky Harbor International when I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket.
“Frontier Travel Alert!” read the text message. “The departure time…has updated to 12:30AM.”
I swore aloud. That was almost five hours after my original scheduled departure of 7:40 p.m.
And while I wasn’t on one of the hundred or so flights that Frontier straight-up canceled this past weekend due to the large winter storm that hit Denver, I ended up experiencing eight hours' worth of delays for only two flights and three hours and forty minutes of total flying time.
Now, I don’t mind delays due to weather; I’m perfectly happy to play it safe, and all airlines servicing Denver experienced some degree of delays this past Friday to Sunday.
But Frontier, despite being based in Colorado, seemed completely blindsided by the storm. It was total amateur hour.
When I finally boarded my plane in Phoenix after midnight, the pilot discovered that we had no flight crew, because the previous crew members had reached the end of their shift. Union rules mandated that they had to get some sleep.
“So we’re calling up some other folks,” said a voice on the PA. “They’re some of the newer attendants.... Hopefully they’ll be here within an hour.”
A woman seated in the row across from me lost it.
“WE’RE SWEATING BULLETS IN HERE!” she yelled. “AT LEAST TURN ON THE AIR! WHAT THE FUCK!?”
By the time we touched down in Denver, it was 3:20 a.m.
That’s when I learned that I had it relatively easy among Frontier flyers this past weekend. Parts of Terminal A at DIA resembled a refugee camp, with men, women and children splayed out on jackets as they tried to catch some z’s while waiting through their own delays.
The scene only intensified when I passed some of the gates, where angry mobs crowded in on check-in desks demanding to know if the poor Frontier assistant could give them hotel vouchers or transfer them to other airlines – requests that Frontier Airlines, as a policy, does not oblige when delays or cancellations are “weather-related.”
Nor did I check in any baggage, which was a whole separate debacle for many Frontier flyers. On Twitter, some claim that their bags showed up at their intended destinations twelve hours after their owners this weekend.
Frontier has already engaged in a frenzied public-relations campaign to issue apologies for their weekend "meltdown."
But my favorite moment on Monday came when I received an e-mail around lunchtime.
“Thank you for flying Frontier” read the message. “Please tell us about the experience.”
I just smiled and deleted the e-mail.
Will I continue flying Frontier? I can’t really say. Those Den Deals are just so hard to resist, you know?