Topic of the Week: Frontier Lays Off Its Ground Handlers and Reservations Agents

Frontier, Labor Relations

Frontier has announced it will lay off the only remaining ground handlers employed by the airline, those in Denver, and outsource the jobs. At the same time, it will outsource its reservations agents as well. Is this a necessary move to help remake the airline as an ultra low cost carrier? Or is it a mistake that will come back to bit the airline?

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43 comments on “Topic of the Week: Frontier Lays Off Its Ground Handlers and Reservations Agents

  1. Short term gain but at what long-term cost? Outsourcing saves money up front, but can lead to customer satisfaction issues later on. Plus outsourced employees have less brand loyalty and less pride-in-job. (They are paid less, so why should they care about your airline they don’t even work for?)
    The end of the world? Nah. Another sign that airlines travel is little better than hitchhiking in the rain? Yeah.

    1. Well… it is a ULCC. They’re making a bet that any backdraft in customer service scores can be made up in the profits and lower fares they can do. For the market that these airlines are chasing… it may not be a bad idea (for them, maybe not the rest of us).

      1. Agreed. While Frontier definitely tries to seem more “friendly” than Spirit, but ultimately their customers are coming for the fares, not loyalty. A bad experience may turn a customer away, but its unlikely that an outsourced reservation agent is going to make such a “catastrophic” screw up more often than one in-house. There may be more complaints about smaller things, but hopefully most consumers will chalk it up to getting what they paid for.

      2. While this sort of makes sense, the reality in the long run is it won’t save them anymore money, because there is clearly a movement afoot to make airports and the workers employed there to have a higher minimum wage. Not knowing the payscale they have currently, this may save some money, but likely this will just ramp up efforts to make broader wage changes for airports and workers there.

        People can’t keep arguing that the money spent towards airports and aviation related expenses are valuable tools of economic development when it is increasingly clear that the companies in the aviation industry are attempting to not only get that money, but also slash workers pay. I think DIA has to seriously reconsider whether subsidies and other similar negotiations with Frontier are valuable if they continue to cut their workforce.

  2. It always saddens me when things of this nature occur in this (or any) industry. There rarely seems to be a middle ground anymore. Years of hard work and dedication eliminated with a memo. The race to the bottom and no reward for company loyalty.

    While nearly all airlines have done the same thing in one form or another the past decade or so, this leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. The transformation of F9 into a ULCC has oddly resulted in an increase in service at my home airport, STL. Yet the downsizing of DEN has left me with precious little reason to search F9 as a travel option: fewer destinations, destinations left I don’t really need to get to, lousy schedules etc…

    Now this. F9 may be bottom line focused now, but they’ve transformed themselves out of my patronage possibilities. All the best to the folks thrown under the bus at F9.

    1. Well said, I feel for the employees who worked to make the airline successful only to lose everything after years of contributing. I wrote Frontier off a long time ago when they shafted my wife and me when returning DEN-FLL and sent us to United where we flew Ted back a couple of hours later with our F9 ticket. We then switched to Southwest and have never looked back – WN is perfect for us.

  3. Re: Frontier Airlines ‘outsourcing’ in Denver

    Here is the link to the best story I have seen about this issue…from the Denver
    Business Journal, story is from Jan. 16, 2015

    Related story, this is ‘subscriber only’ content… from Denver Business Journal,
    from Jan. 23, 2015

    Editor’s Notebook: Sears fading away; is Frontier next?

    Frontier is laying off 1,160 people, just here in Denver.

    They can reapply for their jobs, with Swissport, for less money.

    Here in Denver, on Dec. 1, 2014, United changed the vendor they used for baggage loading, unloading, on all United Express flights, and had a huge
    baggage mess, mis connected bags, etc. Lot’s of bad press for that, especially
    with high budget skiers going to the Colorado resorts, Aspen, Vail, etc.

    Basic problem was people will not do the job for minimum wage, with the commute out to Denver airport, odd shift times, split shifts, etc.

    FYI, from downtown Denver to the Denver airport, is 25 miles, one way.

    People were hired, and they never showed up for work.

    Currently, United Express is the ONLY non stop carrier, from Denver to Aspen, Steamboat Springs (Hayden) and Vail, (Eagle County Airport)

  4. The more interesting issue to me is the issue of employee culture. Remember that less than 10 years ago the employee culture was so strong that they rejected a merger with Southwest which would have resulted in job security and increased pay, and they did so simply out of company pride. It is clear that current and previous management was not able to turn that into a competitive advantage, and now is probably crushing the spirits of any who still had that level of pride in their company. Quite a sad story, really.

      1. Sam, I would have disagreed with you ten years ago. I’ve learned the truth of your statement the hard way.

      2. Perhaps a better way of saying this is “never be more loyal to a company than they are to you.” One can argue that Southwest has shown themselves to be more loyal to their staff than other airlines.

  5. It seems like the airline is circling the drain to some degree. . . . .Does Spirit or Agilent have their own reservation agents as a comparison? The baggage handlers (while important) don’t do front-line customer service, which is what people remember when evaluating an airline.

  6. I’ll concur with what Jonathan and Noah said. Outsourcing may result in crappy customer service, but if Frontier’s objective is to become a true ULCC, I don’t know why they’d care. Spirit doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation for the customer experience, yet people keep coming back to save $20. Remember that F9’s new owners also used to own Spirit; I’m sure it’s no coincidence that they’re now trying to replicate the same model at Frontier.

    1. I read somewhere that most of Spirit’s complaints were from customers who booked through 3rd party websites and were unfamiliar with the fees and products. I’m also sure most who go as far as to complain on any review site or DOT ever really use them again. Most will pay more to stay away once they experience poor service themselves.

  7. It’s not unheard of for an airline to outsouce jobs like ramp workers, but as mentioned already once you outsource you have little control and those workers don’t care.

    But something like reservation agents you would almost think if they are trying to be really ULCC, they wouldn’t even have that position anymore and want everyone to only use their website. Maybe that part is down the road more.

    1. These are called “Virtual Airlines”, and while you can’t compare an operation the size of F9 with the new PEx, I agree it would be a bad move.

  8. I was at the Frontier rebranding event last summer and all their execs could talk about was how great their people are, and how that is their real advantage over their competitors. I guess they really didn’t even believe it themselves.

    1. “their people” = CxO

      I really need to get my Executive Outsourcing Service going. Pitch to the board: why spend $x00,000 on a new CEO when our friendly offshore agents can make essentially the same decisions for $x, 000.

      Syep 2: board outsourcing service :)

  9. It may not be necessary. But it still may be a way for the airline to save money. Although ultimately an airline needs to be able to hire and manage employees, seems like it ought to be core competency. Why can Menzies do it better than someone else?

    1. Of course, at DIA they currently can’t. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Swissport.

  10. As a former F9 Elite (I guess I have status on them through 2015 from the first 8 months of 2014), I can tell you the airline has no concerns about loyalty. I was amazed at how little they cared for long-term FFs, but they don’t. I think it was Boyd aviation that pointed out they are no longer flying business people from Denver to New York. They are getting people from the trailer park to the beach. I suspect they will be successful as an airline for the next few years, with cheaper fuel and improving consumer disposable income. If there is a merger with Spirit and perhaps some growth, there may even be long-term ‘flying bus’ options for them. But most likely, the next economic downturn will leave them absent business travelers and empty planes flying undesirable routes.

    Any F9 DEN employees reading this: Thank you for a good run. During the good times, Frontier was a unique, fun experience and you really were a hometown airline well-loved by your customers. Sorry this has happened, and I sincerely hope the improving economy finds you with satisfying new roles and opportunities.

    1. It may well be that with WN’s growth at DEN, F9’s old model was no longer tenable in any event. The old F9 is long gone.

      1. Frontier;s “old” model was never really tenable.

        Frontier didn’t make a full year profit from 2003 – long before Southwest showed up at DEN – until 2012, when it began to embrace the ULCC model.

        So who subsidises all those passengers? Who pays for all those staff?

        Now Frontier has found a way out of the financial woods, and people are complaining that it isn’t the “old” Frontier?

        Passengers have voted – with their wallets.

  11. In the short to medium run it will be a mess.  When Menzies took over the ground activities from Alaska in Seattle, there was a lot of damage to aircraft affecting air worthiness and damage to cargo, some of which I actually saw.  Replacing the Res Agents will likely lead less efficiency reservation processing and handling, as well as mistakes and a general lack of knowledge about the reservations process.  But I don’t fly Frontier, anyway, so it’s academic.

  12. Interesting comments, and discussion. I will never understand the extent to which people will put up, or implicitly support, any amount of nonsense and bad behavior to save $20. That the ULCC model is in any way sustainable, or desirable, is not something I think I’ll ever understand.

    In Ye Olden Days, I was a true F9 loyalist, choosing them for all my flying even when the schedule or price didn’t make a lot of sense. As a business person, I completely understand the form and function of the changes they’re making, and wish them well in their quest to become the WalMart of airlines (low prices above all, including any sense of self respect), but the last time I flew, and the flight I have coming up in a couple weeks, were/are on Southwest.This is no small achievement: I #$&*% hate Southwest and their stupid singing flight attendants and the cattle call seating, and the fact that they’re a Texas company. But they’re efficient, reasonably friendly, and seem to treat their employees well. At some level, that lets me sleep at night when I hit “buy.”

    1. United 1K here (soon Gold, though). I love the orderly boarding process of Southwest. Nothing cattle-call about it. Fly UA when you get a chance and see how much fun it is to squeeze through the masses blocking access to the gate area.

  13. Paid for first class ticket . Splurged. Overbooked first class. New first class seat in row 25. Thanks United you were so “you’re fucked” at the checking counter.

    1. But, it’s one where there is a lot of money to be made. Spirit has been this country’s most successful airline for a while. They must be doing something right…

  14. IIRC the old TWA outsourced some res jobs to prison inmates and VX currently outsources to IBM. (Please correct me if I’m wrong).

    F9 does seem to be flying without Jepps at this point; much like the NK of the early 00s. I hope they figure out their brand and demographic before the next economic downturn. I agree with AGHadden; the current model is unsustainable when discretionary income goes *poof* .

    1. What TWA had was a job training program at a youth correctional facility in Ventura, Calif which is north of Los Angeles. The adults in the office who managed it every day were TWA employees. The teens had to still go to school part of the day and have good grades and be on their best behavior to work there. They were very good at the job and even became the Round-The-World program desk. If it hadn’t have been a TV documentary, no one would have known about it since there was no difference between their skills and regular res office workers. And yes, they were offered jobs at TWA and some did work for TWA.

  15. While dismissing the Ramp Folks probably won’t change much, outsourcing their reservations operation to a third party is likely to hurt them, a lot. Company affiliated agents are often difficult to deal with, but outsiders, some contract outfit darn sure won’t be any better. I suspect that Frontier is shooting themselfs in the foot, perhaps to prepare for another BKY case.
    In the end, the better LCCs will survive and thrive. Those attempting to be or become *Ultlra* LCCs probably won’t make it. I guess I’m lucky, in the sense that Frontier’s route structure or services do not really impact me. There are few Frontier options and better choices are available. IMO, an otherwise proud name, managed unto a CFIT situation. No, I do not believe that frontier can survive into 2016. More airline toast…

    1. We went through all this – here – a year ago, when Frontier outsourced the out-stations. Cranky’s comment at the time was: “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”

      What people loved was the idea of Frontier and the cute animals, but that didn’t translate into flying Frontier.

      The two other (US) ULCC”s are Allegiant and Spirit, both of which outsource, both of which pretty much print money and neither of which has ever been called a “better” LCC.

  16. Just wanted to add a little perspective to what the media doesn’t report properly. This outsourcing affected every single F9 employee who worked at DIA with the exception of aircraft appearance who has some sort of contract in place until next September and of course maintenance. Meaning CS/Ramp/Tower Ops (Load,Zone,Gate Control) /catering/ as well as all the supervisors and managers for those departments. Denver based Reservations as well as MKE reservations. So basically cleaned house, with the exception of aircraft appearance…. no pun intended.

    You are now looking at a race between Simplicity & Swissport to fill a lot of openings with people who frankly don’t seem that interested…. Meanwhile WN is leaving flyers on concourse buses to woe workers into interviews where they can selectively choose the “best of the best” to join their team. Not a bad move I must say, seems they may be gaining more from this than anyone.

  17. How is it that when ever there is even the slightest whisper of outsourcing in the auto manufacturing industry, the UAW, congressman, union brothers & sisters from Federal, State, Counand City Public Employes and even the President of the United States are outraged about outsourcing? Yet, union airline employees have been going backwards for 30 years. I know the answer to my own question. Nobody cares about airline employees. All they care about is can I get to Florida and back for $200. Just suppose a union brother or sister Public Employee, teacher, UAW member or politician approached an airline ticket counter on only to find out their flight was major delayed because an airline union group was on strike with a legitimate grievance, would the union brothers & sisters not fly that day out of respect for their fellow union brothers & sisters? Hell no, they couldn’t run fast enough to the next airline competitors ticket counter to rebook. It is the height of hypocrisy from union members when it comes to airline employees. There are thousands of public employees working in airports, including the person swiping your credit card for parking making twice as much as the airline ground personnel with Caddillac health insurance and full pensions and no one says a word about it. In many cases, those public employees have much better pay packages than the Copilots and for sure the Flight Attendants. It is an unparalleled injustice. So when I hear people complain about bag fees etc, when the fares in many cases are lower now than they were when I got in this crazy business clear back in 1984, I say “are you kidding me?” How much has the cost of shipping that 50 pound bag increased on FedEx since 1984. Why aren’t driving $30,000 cars/trucks for only $15,000? We should be if all other labor groups were treated the same way as airline employees. It is a tragedy what has happened to airline employees and the public better get used to terrible airline service because that is where the market is headed. As the ULCC segment grows, the legacy carries will not be able to compete and will be asking for, once again concessions from it’s labor groups. This has to stop, or the traveling public just needs to quit complaining or insist that airline employees are respected as much as all other labor groups. I personally don’t see that happening so keep quiet about airline service and fees because you, the traveling public brought this on yourselves. Now, start demanding $30,000 cars for the purchase price of just $15,000 and we will see what kind of cars that will produce and the outrage from the UAW. Pathetic the way airline employees have been pushed aside, ignored and forgotten. And, they are the ones keeping you right side up and safe at 38,000 feet.

  18. I flew frontier once from DEN to MDW back in 2006 or 2007… It was a good experience. I had high hopes for the brand even after the Midwest purchase, but at this point I just ignore them altogether.

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