Frontier Makes a Pragmatic, Unsurprising, Yet Sad Move to Outsource Airport Staff

For years, you could hear Frontier employees talk as if they were part of one big family. It Frontier Layoffswas that level of care that often brought the airline praise from frequent fliers. It also helped create Frontier’s image as Denver’s hometown airline.

But while the name on the airplane and the animals on the tail may still exist, the core of the airline is a lot different than it used to be. And now we’re seeing the results of that change in the form of a decision to outsource all airport staff except in its Denver hub. This is a sad change, but it really is the right thing for the airline to be doing today. I hate to say it, but it’s true.

One Frontier employee who will soon be out of a job sent me an internal memo with details of what’s happening. Of course, many smaller Frontier stations are already outsourced but now the rest, save Denver, will join in.

The first group of stations that will go through this transition to outsourcing will be Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and St. Louis, which will transition to vendor services by the end of April. The second group will be Albuquerque, Omaha, Orange County, and San Diego, which will transition to vendor services this summer.

Some of these seem like very clear moves. I mean, Frontier has 2 flights a day in Albuquerque. It’s hard to justify having your own staff in a small station like that. Third party contractors that can handle flights for several carriers throughout the day are much better equipped to run that operation.

In fact, I don’t think any of these stations have more than 5 flights a day anymore. I doubt there are more than a couple of stations at all where Frontier has more than 5 flights a day. There used to be more in bigger cities, sure, but Frontier has changed a lot since those days.

A Different Animal
The reality is that Frontier used to be a full service-style airline. It even used to have 34 inches of seat pitch giving it a JetBlue-esque feel. And Denver was the focus of everything. But in the end, that model didn’t make money and things had to change. The legroom went away. Or shall I say, it went away across the board. Now you can pay more for it in a smaller area up front. The nature of the operation changed as well. You started hearing the airline call itself an Ultra Low Cost Carrier (ULCC) the way Allegiant and Spirit style themselves.

Denver and its insane three-way competition proved to be a liability. Frequent flights to the traditional big cities were cut while smaller cities started to receive sub-daily flights. Places like Knoxville, Harrisburg, Minot, and more found themselves with a few flights a week to Denver. And then the focus went outside Denver. Orlando has a decent operation. There are also a lot of flights in partnership with Apple Vacations down to Mexico and the Caribbean from across middle America. And most recently, Trenton has become a big focus.

It appears that Frontier is trying to be a ULCC with good customer service and friendly policies. That would be a welcome differentiator. And you might think that the loyal employees who have worked at the airline for years would be a good way to provide that customer service. But in the end, if you want to be a ULCC, you need to get your costs down further. If Frontier trains its contractors well, it can still provide solid customer service. Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me to see some of the same people who work for Frontier today end up working for the contractor. But those people will also be able to work for other airlines under that contractor and it will mean greater efficiency.

Yes, this is sad for everyone who loved Frontier for what it used to be. But it’s a wake up call to remind people that this isn’t the same Frontier anymore. It’s a different airline; a ULCC. And it’s going to mean changes like this are inevitable. I hate to say it’s the right thing to do for Frontier, but considering what it is trying to be, it does make sense.

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