Trying Frontier’s New Onboard Experience (Trip Report)

Frontier, Trip Reports

Having chosen the United 787-9 for my flight out to Denver, I completely forgot that I needed to book a return as well. Knowing I was going to meet with Frontier, I really thought it best to fly the airline home. I’m glad I did. This was a really good experience.

Frontier’s fare was $99, well below others on midday flights. Of course, I needed to add on a few things. I could have simply chosen The Works. This is Frontier’s way of letting you rebundle if you want a better experience. Here was my option:

Frontier The Works

Indeed, $72 would have been a great deal if I wanted Stretch seating and if I valued refundability. That’s not a big step up in price to get it, but this trip was locked in. Plus, I only wanted a carry-on bag ($30) and a window seat in the back ($9). I opted for the a la carte option instead, paying $138 in total, still better than others.

The printer at the business center in our Homewood Suites in Littleton (which needs serious renovation) broke, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get my boarding pass. Frontier is finalizing a new phone app which will make this much better in the future, but fortunately, someone at the front desk figured out a way for me to email it to them for printing. Problem solved.

The next day, I made my way out to Western Kansas Denver Airport, and again found myself bracing for the worst. I had been watching the inbound aircraft, and suddenly noticed that a delay had been posted on the flight in from Salt Lake. It was going to be 2 hours late, and I figured that meant I was destined for a couple hour delay myself. Dejected, I headed toward security.

Frontier doesn’t participate in Pre Check, and I really dreaded the process. Fortunately since Frontier is on Concourse A, I could walk upstairs to the special security area on the bridge over there, bypassing the train. The lines weren’t too long, but it still took me 15 minutes to get through. Pre Check would make a huge difference.

Our A320 Frontier

After getting through, I saw my flight was still on time, and then I realized why. Frontier had pulled a spare aircraft out for us! Having met with the Frontier folks on Friday, I wondered if this was some sort of special treatment. But I looked later and Frontier had 96.1 percent of flights arrive within 14 minutes of schedule that day. With such a good operation, that spare must have just been itching for an opportunity to get in the air. The spare is an A320, so that was an upgauge for us from a 144 seat A319 to 180 seats. Sweet.

Boarding was called and people orderly lined up by zone. I was in zone 1, which I think is what happens when you purchase a carry-on but I’m not sure. I boarded Sally the Mustang, our tail animal, and headed toward my seat. The seats are brand new and looked really nice. I heard a couple people say “wow, this must be a new airplane,” not realizing it was more than 20 10 years old.

Sally the Mustang Frontier


October 12, 2015
Frontier 405 Lv Denver 1220p Arr Los Angeles 145p
Denver (DEN): Gate A36, Runway 17R, Depart 5m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 31B, Runway 25L, Arrive 16m Early
N203FR, Airbus A320-214, Sally the Mustang colors, ~80% Full
Seat 14A, Coach
Flight Time 1h49m

Once on the airplane, I made my way back, passing the smart-looking Stretch seats (below).

Stretch Seating Frontier

When I got back to my seat, I put my stuff up in the bin. There was plenty of space even once boarding was completed, as you can see in this photo.

Empty Overhead Bins Frontier

There were some open seats on the airplane, but my row was completely full. I took a deep breath and sat down. And you know what? It was comfortable. This row is a little different than others because the seat in front is an exit row and has the traditional tray table hanging off the back. (Most of the seats have half-tables.) But I think that means that personal space may feel a bit smaller than in other seats. That being said, I felt like I had plenty of legroom.

Standard Seats Frontier

The seat is of the “pre-reclined” variety so it feels like the whole thing is ever-so-slightly tilted back into a cradle position. Over time, I still found the seat bottom to be really comfortable. The back was a bit stiff, but it wasn’t bad.

I also took notice of the seat width. Frontier offers middle seats that are wider than the rest. That not only gives a little more breathing room, but it also adjusts where you’d want to put your arms on the tiny armrest. It was a surprisingly nice configuration. I tried to get a good photo of it, and you can kind of see here. Look where my shoulders fall on my seat compared to the guy in the middle.

Seat Width Frontier

As I was checking out my seat, people kept trying to move forward and the flight attendant kept pushing them back. He was more stern than I would have liked, but he rightly explained that it wouldn’t be fair to let them move into seats that others had to pay for. Some people were mad, but everyone followed directions. It must not be fun enforcing those rules.

We were ready to go so we pushed back early and had a really short taxi to runway 17R. We were in the air and on our way very quickly. The sky was a brilliant blue as we pointed our nose toward the Rockies. As usual, there were some bumps on the ascent over the mountains, but it smoothed out and the seatbelt sign went off before we leveled off.

Frontier has no wi-fi, so I had prepared with some reading material to keep me busy. The flight attendants made a pass trying to sell snacks and drinks. I declined but I did take a cup of water, which is free.

The rest of the flight passed quickly. We descended into LAX and arrived at the gate fairly early thanks to light headwinds. (Strangely, the eastbound flight on United was 10 minutes longer than this westbound flight.)

I really enjoyed my flight on Frontier and wouldn’t hesitate to fly the airline again. As long as it’s able to keep its on-time performance where it is, then Frontier should be an increasingly good option.

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30 comments on “Trying Frontier’s New Onboard Experience (Trip Report)

  1. Sounds like a pretty decent flight, despite all the add-on charges. Can you recline on Frontier?

    After all the surcharges, what was the total out-of-pocket, and how was that compared to the rest of the fares?

    1. ptahcha – If you’re in regular seating, then the seats are pre-reclined (they really are tilted back), but you can’t change it. If you’re in Stretch, those are normal reclining seats.

      As mentioned, the price was $138 total. For flights around midday on other airlines, I believe they were running about $50 more. (There were cheaper options in the early morning or evening.)

  2. I like that Frontier gives you the option of buying a “bundled” fare, or doing the ala cart thing. I think that could really help differentiate themselves from Spirit (along with the reliability factor). Personally, it gives them a leg up with me. I’ll be curious to see what they have in store for Dulles. It appeared like last winter was a bunch of non-daily flights. If they are getting rid of those, I wonder if they will remain committed to the airport. For my selfish reasons, I am hoping so.

  3. Even when people complain about Frontier’s pricing structure (get used to it) I tell them even an airline you don’t care for and don’t fly is still a net positive for the market as it keeps fares low and spurs new routes. For that I’m grateful. I have a few pilot and FA friends who work for Frontier, and support them when I can.

    Also, those mid-tier hotel PCs are extremely insecure, potentially loaded with malware. While printing a boarding pass (not tied to an account) would be ok, I would never use them to sign in to any personal account. And for chain hotels you’d think there’d be a standard of protection for the crummy little PC in the corner, (calling itself a “business center”).

  4. You’ve convinced me – they have a too good to be true special on flights from Austin to Denver ($68 roundtrip, plus “all the extras” – with one carry on and a seat assignment in back $142)

    We’ll see how it goes!

  5. Hi Brett –

    I’ve been curious to hear about travels in the new Frontier cabins, which sound like a level of misery even beyond Spirit

    From the picture you took of the empty row, the pitch looks a lot more than the 28″ in the majority of un-Stretch coach. Next time you fly Frontier, can you review a trip in one of the regular un-Stretch seats, with the minimal pitch and half-table-tray?

    Thanks,
    Erik

    1. Erik – I checked again with Frontier and confirmed that my row was standard in terms of pitch. These are much thinner seats so the legroom is much better than you’d expect. The only difference is that since the exit row in front of me is Stretch seating, it has a regular seat so my tray table was a full one.

      As for the half table, I did just experience it this week on Hawaiian’s 717s. And it was fine. But I’ll have more about that later.

      1. Huh. That’s interesting about the seatback tray table. As to the seat itself, I’ve flown Frontier a few times in the past year, and as a pretty average Anerican guy (5′ 10″, 170 lbs., 32 in waist) I found the seat decent enough for short flights (DEN-LAS, DEN-STL), I don’t know if I’d want to go transcon on it. (But that’s part of the cool thing about living in Denver– I don’t have to go transcon on flights.)

  6. > not realizing it was more than 20 years old.
    Sally the Mustang (N203FR) was built in 2002 so it would be a 13 year-old frame. With Frontier since 2009

    1. DC, it does say a lot about Frontier that they would (evidently) refurbish a 13 year old airplane. That does show that they care about how their planes look to their customers which does enhance their reputation. Unfortunately it looks like I don’t fit in their seats and I hate the ala-carte pricing model (I actually think we need to go back to the pre-1978 regulations in most areas of commercial aviation where the price was all-inclusive, regulated by the government — no profitability issues or bankruptcy waves in the airline industry back then thanks to government regulated fares and service was much better than it is today — the base coach product was much better than even first class is now). Seat size needs to be regulated so that someone that isn’t 5′ 1″ and 95 pounds can sit comfortably in the seats (I am 6′ and 450 pounds, forcing me to fly first class or not at all on today’s airlines, I can forget about sitting in a coach seat due to my size). IMO if the cost of cheap airfare is today’s airline product I say triple the price and bring back wide seats, included checked and carry-on baggage, three course meals and free booze. A fee adequate to cover all pro-rata costs of TSA and the air marshals (of which there should be four armed guards on each flight to shoot and kill any terrorists that make it onto a flight) should also be assessed to flyers, TSA should not be paid for largely out of general taxation as it is today — those that fly should pay for it. $75 per flight leg should cover it IMO.

      1. There wasn’t really ever a time when somebody 6′ and 450# could fit comfortably in coach on a jet. And first class now is as nice as it’s ever been.

        Airports stink. Lord, yes. And airplanes didn’t always used to be full. But the seating itself isn’t getting worse, frighteningly enough.

        1. Maybe not but I could actually fly coach (I may have only been 375-400 pounds back then). As it is now I (relatively) seldom fly due to the extreme discomfort I experience in doing so (even in first class). Even Brett has commented over the years on how seating has changed including narrowing of the seats and reducing legroom to add more seats to the plane. Others have commented on this and other sites about the reduction in the quality of meals/charging extra for them if you fly coach; charging for checking a bag (yes, I know my bags are free flying in first class), drinks, etc. and the lack of friendliness/service of stewardesses.

          Xnuiem, this is not tongue-in-cheek. Also, if the number of people flying is reduced that would not be a bad thing. IMO flying should not priced so anyone can afford to fly if the cost is what passes for “airline service” today. Fewer planes in the air would lead to fewer “close-call” incidents of which two or three make the news every year. The crowds at the TSA stations and boarding gates would be reduced as well, saving the airports money in expansions and staffing and making flying much easier on passengers. With regulated rates (if done correctly) the airlines would be profitable no matter what the economy’s state is at the time (as they were pre-deregulation) — even more important now that we only have a handful of airlines flying, if one goes bankrupt today either we end up with a behemoth of an airline due to a fast-track merger approved to prevent stranding of passengers and not on the other merits of the proposed merger (as is supposedly done now) or thousands of people end up with worthless airline tickets. With safer regulations regarding safety features, training requirements and requiring four trained, armed air marshals onboard every commercial flight (paid for with a fee charged to every flier) to shoot and kill any terrorists that make their way onto a flight ensuring another 9/11 does not happen flying would be much safer than it is today. I think fewer passengers is a price worth paying for re-regulation and a steep increase in fares to pay for safety features, checking bags, meals, wider/roomier seating and better trained stewardesses.

      2. In 1979, average annual domestic trips per US citizen was half or less than what it is today. If we went back to a pre-1979 regime it would mean a radical reduction in the amount of flying by US citizens.

    1. It’s not. All those extras bought separately would cost $184, but Frontier has this Special One Of A Kind Bundled Price Just For You, Act Now of $72. The ticket itself is $99, and so these are the extras Brett could have bought at that price.

  7. So offense, but one can’t help to think frontiers management probably had an incentive to get a lil positive press knowing the reputation of your site and offered a lil kickback for a good review? ;)
    I flown in frontier a few times and maybe because I fly to NYC allot on JetBlue, and I’m spoiled, but i detest frontier. Horrible service, uncomfortable seats, mean flight attendants, and then they gouge you for everything minus the air you breath. I just sense this report is a little too polished being you just met with their mangmt.

    1. Tar&feathr – Frontier provided absolutely nothing to me. As I have since the very beginning, I’ve put everything of substance offered to me by an airline for anyone to see at crankyflier.com/ethics. If I write about it, then I prominently put the disclosure toward the top of the post. I am and always have been completely open.

      You talk about horrible service and mean flight attendants. Ok. I did say one of the flight attendants sounded more stern than I would have liked, but that was it. Everything else was fine. Would you expect that every flight attendant on every flight would be mean? As for the seats, have you sat in the new ones? I found them comfortable. And paying for everything? Yeah, that’s the business model. It was still cheaper than anything else.

    2. I think Brett is an honest person even if I disagree with him on a few things. If he says he didn’t receive special treatment (that he knows of) I believe him. I suppose it is possible that some computer algorithm was entered into the computer in order to flag and give special treatment to him when he entered his name into their internet site to book his flight (which he would not likely know about) but I believe him when he said he did not (knowingly) receive special treatment. As for the price he was charged, from what little I know about Frontier I don’t think he received a special fare from what he said here.

      1. mharris127 – I think you’re giving Frontier way too much credit on the tech side. Their functionality is pretty bare bones. If they could flag someone who books online, I’d be amazed.

        As for the fare, that was most definitely the regular selling fare. If anyone provided a discounted fare, I would disclose that. I also don’t accept discounted travel for personal trips. I may try to combine personal and work, as I did this week on a trip to Hawai’i for Media Day, but my rationale is this: if I’m taking the trip regardless of the work commitment, then I’m not accepting anything. If I wouldn’t take the trip without the work piece, then I will accept it and fully disclose it.

  8. “I completely forgot that I needed to book a return as well”, says one of the countries leading travel concierges? ;) Just kidding.
    Good read. I have not flown Frontier since they went ultra cheap. I bought a family member a sale fare, $68 RT DEN-PDX and was careful to explain all options to them. The $99 seems great to get refundable plus checked and carry on. I’ll definitely try them in the future – but I’m almost completely Southwest domestically.
    As far as pre-check, I have Global Entry, which comes with a card. If I were flying Frontier I would carry the card with me through the pre-check line, I’m sure that would be fine. Does regular pre-check not come with a physical card?

    1. John – Ha, yeah. I guess I was too busy booking trips for other people…

      As for Global Entry, I don’t believe that card will do anything. The airline has to clear you with the TSA, and if it doesn’t have that link, then I don’t think you can do anything.

      1. True. One would hope it would get you through but TSA would rather put an entire family that flys once every couple years through Pre.

  9. Just looking into a trip LAX–DEN (one way), a few months out, for a family of 5. A few thoughts:

    1. Frontier’s discount den is great, because one membership allows up to 6 passengers on the same reservation, so you save a lot even on just one flight. I believe Spirit is the same, though they’re less clear about it on their web site. It looks like for a single passenger, though, the discount den is a gamble — the savings on fare are a bit less than the cost of membership, so you’re betting you’ll fly them again within a year.

    2. I appreciate the fact that their baggage fees remain the same up to 24 hours before the flight (same as the legacy carriers). Allegiant and Spirit both raise the price for bags purchased after booking, which is just annoying. The incremental charge on Allegiant and Spirit is just $5, so if there’s even a slight chance of breakage (either not taking the trip or not needing the bag) I’ll delay the purchase, pay the extra $5, and feel bad about it. By not raising bag fees until 24 hours before departure Frontier makes me happy, and they’re more likely to win my business.

    3. The bundled fare really only makes sense if I value refundability. All the rest can be had, individually, for less. My general policy for personal travel is that I only buy refundable fares if I suspect there’s a reasonable chance I’ll have to cancel (happened once, and I did cancel). Otherwise, I’m happy to take the risk and be out of some cash if I need to change or cancel, since in the long run this form of self-insurance is much more economical. With expensive tickets, I do take care to make sure they have some residual value in case of cancellation or change, but for Frontier’s fares it’s a non-issue.

    4. Also on bundling: other than long intercontinental trips, we never check as many bags as we have people. So the unbundled savings are substantial — checking one bag for 5 people means not paying for another 4 bags which would have been included in the bundled fare.

    5. I like how Frontier say upfront that they’ll try to seat the party together at check-in, but warn that it may not be possible if all seats are taken. This is in contrast to Allegiant, who recently managed to fool my generally booking-savvy mother-in-law into thinking she had to pay for a seat choice. As with the bag fee upcharge, Allegiant got their $12 at the cost of having an annoyed customer. For our upcoming trip we’ll probably splurge the $9 per seat at the back of the bus to make sure we’re together; with 3 of the 5 family members being very short-legged, seat pitch is not going to be an issue.

    6. One thing I do find annoying with Frontier is that you don’t see the price of any extras until you fill in passenger details (same with Allegiant; Spirit are even worse, they require a login). I’m not sure why Frontier ask for details so early, it goes against the fair and friendly ULCC image. I wonder if they actually save the passenger data that people like me enter when trying to just figure out total cost; they’ll find that somehow, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck never complete their bookings.

    7. For the itinerary and options I’m looking at, Frontier is a little under 2/3 the total cost of Southwest ($380 compared to $590 for 5 people); Frontier’s bundled fare is about $700, only $110 more than Southwest. As I said, I don’t care about refundability, but if I did I’d probably choose Frontier because the bundled fare is actually refundable in cash, not in flight credits like Southwest. Southwest does have a huge schedule advantage, though, with 7 nonstop LAX–DEN flights rather than 2. For our family trip that’s not important, because one of Frontier’s flights is at a reasonably good time for us.

    My guess is we’ll end up flying Frontier. We probably won’t buy for another few weeks, though — we’re still several months out, the seat maps are empty, and it looks like the fares we’re seeing are regular fares rather than sale fares, so there’s probably little risk in delaying at this point. Better wait till the rest of the trip comes together :-)

    1. So the time came to pull the trigger, and I bought the tickets on…Southwest. Frontier’s discount den got sold out for the day I wanted, while Southwest’s fare came down to the point the total cost was only $20 above Frontier’s (with one checked bag for a party of 5). At this price difference, the balance tipped due to Southwest’s better schedule, plus to a lesser extent the bundled goodies (extra checked bags if needed, and change flexibility).

      Conclusion: I like Frontier’s model and would have loved to try them, but for their model to succeed they need to price substantially below the competition.

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