Frontier’s Evolving Network in Maps

Frontier

Frontier has been telling us that it needed to remake its operation, delving even further into the out-and-back model of basing crews and airplanes in one city and having them back home that night. This is a real change compared to what the airline did previously, and it’s something we can see quite well in maps.

I don’t have a perfectly clear view into all the bases that the airline may have closed, so please do keep in that mind. The two closures I do know are:

  • The old Midwest Express base in Milwaukee moved down to Chicago in 2012, which then closed in 2022 before reopening this year.
  • There was a base in Trenton, and there is no longer. There is now a base in Philly, and I don’t know if it moved there or there was a gap, but I will just assume it was continuous and consider those jointly a base in all maps.

With that in mind, let’s go back to March of 2019. At that point, there were five bases, I think:

  • Chicago
  • Denver
  • Las Vegas
  • Orlando
  • Trenton/Philly (?)

Out of the airline’s 10,441 scheduled flights that month, nearly a quarter did not touch one of the bases. Here’s how that looked.

Frontier Non-Crew Base Routes March 2019

Map via Cirium

Let’s skip the madness of 2020 and roll into March of 2021. This is when change was beginning to occur. The Chicago base was getting ready to close in April and a Tampa base was to open in May. Miami had opened in March 2020. So, in March 2021 if we just add in Miami, we see that of the 11,368 flights, only 14.5 percent were outside a base.

Frontier Non-Crew Base Routes March 2021

Map via Cirium

The map looks a fair bit different. There is still that Florida focus, but South Florida is barren now that Miami is a crew base. And there is much less mixing between east and west networks. There is a small outpost of crews flying around the west, presumably from Vegas or Denver.

Just one year later, it changes again. Of the 14,435 flights in March 2022, 15.9 percent didn’t touch a base so the number grew slightly. Chicago is a distant memory and Tampa is in. Atlanta had also opened up in Oct 2021. You can see the beginnings of a network in the above map, but then looking below…

Frontier Non-Crew Base Routes March 2022

Map via Cirium

At this point, a whole lot of flying was touching Cancún with Phoenix and secondary Florida cities holding their own. The Caribbean network was growing as well.

It will be no surprise that in November 2022, a Phoenix base opened. So, by March 2023, only 12 percent of the 15,614 flights didn’t touch a base. Cancún shrunk, so that helped reduce the percentage too.

Frontier Non-Crew Base Routes March 2023

Map via Cirium

It was in 2023 when rapid changes began to unfold. In May 2023, DFW became a base. In March 2024, Cleveland opened. That really cut nearly everything in the west that didn’t touch a base. The leisure spots in Florida and the Caribbean continued to be there, but now only 6.7 percent of the 18,406 flights were not touching a base.

Frontier Non-Crew Base Routes March 2024

Map via Cirium

Then, more happened. Chicago reopened in May 2024, the same time Cincinnati opened. San Juan will be the next base to open in June. We can’t look at next March, because what’s filed isn’t reliable, but look at July 2024.

Frontier Non-Crew Base Routes July 2024

Map via Cirium

As of now, July has only 3.5 percent of the 22,244 scheduled flights operating outside of a base. You can see where those flights are. The West Coast lives! (So does Raleigh/Durham.)

My assumption is that Frontier will always have some non-base flying, because it wants to audition new places to eventually become a base. From this map, it looks like RDU followed by Ontario and then San Francisco are the current clubhouse leaders, but you can be sure the airline is watching Charlotte, New Orleans, Houston, and Portland (OR) as it starts to dip toes further in those places.

What you don’t see here is just how many routes have come and gone over the years. There have been many. But Frontier can now orient itself around its 13 bases and then venture out to hunt for new base opportunities. Operationally it’s very helpful, but commercially, there are tradeoffs. Still, Frontier seems to be a true believer that this is the way forward.

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33 comments on “Frontier’s Evolving Network in Maps

  1. Isn’t their crew base issue the least of Frontier’s problems, though? Their overall business model seems dysfunctional and I’m not sure what they can do about it. Americans don’t seem keen to fly ultra-low-cost-carriers, and I don’t blame them. The bare minimum for travel for most people is to bring a carry-on. The ULCCs now hide the ball on this, and the prices for a carry-on bag can be absurd — like over $60 each way. At the same time, with Frontier, you are constantly assaulted by poor customer service: cramped seating, a dysfunctional website, no phone support, constantly changing flight times/schedules with limited flights, bad reaccomodation options, and a general sense of poor quality. Most people reasonably decide to stick with the larger airlines instead. Frontier seems doomed to me.

    1. The funny thing about all this is that Frontier has offered (for a modest fee) high elite status to everyone else’s elite frequent flyers — and the bravest amongst us have take advantage of this. If you’re brave (or stupid) you can usually fly around the US with Frontier’s Diamond status for almost free. I average about $30 an airfare, and Frontier gives me all their unbundled services (seats, bags, flight changes) for free. So I have a window into the chaos. When you’re not paying for it — and you have the skills and flexibility to respond when things go wrong — Frontier can be a reasonable option. But we see everything that is wrong with that airline, and it seems to be just about everything. These guys just don’t have it together.

    2. I see you on Flyertalk regularly posting about your Frontier flights on the F9 forum, and it looks like your latest post was minutes ago talking about future flights you have with them. Are you saying you unreasonably stay with them?

      1. Looks like you responded a few minutes before I replied, but it seems you are like most of the masses (including me) – willing to endure Frontier to save a few bucks. Not to say they couldn’t (or shouldn’t) improve, but that enough people are flying them and in the same position as you where they are willing to deal with the downsides for a better overall value prop than the big 3.

      2. No, when you pay less than 30 bucks, get an assigned extra-legroom seat (and you can now even get the middle-seat blocked!), have full refundability with all the luggage you could possibly want, I think it’s silly not to fly them. Their operation isn’t as good as the majors, but it’s generally not terrible. You do need to have an “exit plan,” if something goes wrong, and enough sophistication to not book trips that have a high probability of going very wrong (connections, in particular).

        I will say that MOST people who do not get these things for free should NOT fly Frontier. Of course, everyone has their price, and if you need to get somewhere and the alternative is much more expensive/time consuming, you might give Frontier a chance.

    3. I don’t mind dealing with poor customer service: cramped seating, a dysfunctional website, no phone support, constantly changing flight times/schedules with limited flights, bad reaccomodation options, and a general sense of poor quality for a $29 flight to Atlanta. It’s all I can afford. I’m on a fixed income and need to travel to visit relatives.

    4. Agreed. If you do your homework, you’ll find the ULCCs are not always the best value. I’m in DTW, so I’ve got Spirit and Frontier. I don’t look at Frontier because I’ve heard about the customer service issues. I do look at Spirit. But it’s hit or miss. I uses google flights and book side by side, Spirit and non-Spirit. I won’t book a connection on Spirit, I get free bags on AA, and I don’t like Delta. Spirit tends to work out better on the longer flights, and I try to book a BFS. Usually its competitive with a AA coach seat, even after adding in a carry on bag. But it’s only competitive, not significantly better like the ULCCs promise. The ULCCs seem to rely on the uneducated flyer thinking it’s cheaper. If I’m a backpacker willing the take any seat and travelling with a backpack, maybe. But that not the usual traveller.

  2. Setting aside whether the ULCC model works, Frontier is actually trying to improve their reliability, streamline operations and cut costs, all of which are good things. I’d like to see them succeed in the long run even if I never step foot on one of their planes.

    I know they’ve become very popular in Cleveland among other places so they are clearly filling gaps that are not met by the big 4 (and the other 2) carriers.

  3. Frontier’s new base in Phoenix will be an interesting one to watch. The lack of gate space has caused a lot of unique operations.

    Terminal 3 in PHX is technically all common gate space, but DL, UA, and AS have “dedicated” gates for their operations which means Frontier flights, while mostly located on the south side of Terminal 3, have overflowed at times to the north side. In addition, there are a lot of parked Frontier planes sitting at remote locations all around the airport.

    Their expansion has been impressive, but not sure how well it is doing financially or operationally.

    1. You realize that PHX just announced a major expansion with them building another terminal?

      They will have the space to grow and gobble up more gate space in the coming years…

  4. There are likely some commercial benefits to establishing bases in high origin (as opposed to high destination) markets.

    High origin markets are places like CLE, where there are fewer passengers visiting, but more passengers living and taking a trip away from. High destination markets (like Florida, Colorado, LAS, PHX) have a higher proportion of visitors than high origin markets.

    Crew bases in high origin markets allow for morning departures from the origin, along with evening arrivals back at the origin, that are crew efficient. Without a crew base in origin stations, early departures and late arrivals require a crew overnight and maybe even some trip synthetic. As a result, LCCs tend to bias toward turns (midday arrivals and departures) in markets that they don’t have a crew base.

    Destination markets, on the other hand, tend to perform best with midday arrivals and departures. Early departures from or late arrivals to a destination underperform. Passengers don’t want to leave their vacation too early, or arrive to it too late.

    If Frontier does this right, they should be able to time their flights to be more marketable to passengers living in these crew bases, and therefore should have leverage to charge higher fares. But not too high fares, because this is still Frontier that we are talking about.

  5. The only thing that those network maps tell me is that F9 has a dartboard strategy. How are you meant to cultivate a customer base and brand relevance in any market?

    We know from the extremely poor reputations and fares* of the ULCCs that pax will avoid these airlines and I don’t blame them.

    No demand for the product + no customer base to tap into + needing to rely on inducing demand means that the airline is left with these pure garbage fares that are being sold for a lost.

    We know in the US that airlines make money off captive markets, business travellers, and credit cards. F9 doesn’t have any of that.

    1. Right. Frontier is the King of Garbage Fares. I routinely pay $19 and $29, and I can fly 2000 miles for $39. That’s insane, and unprofitable. Obviously, Frontier is trying to make up the difference with ancillary revenue, but they get none of that from their high elites who get everything for free, and most people balk at the high ad-ons. If I fly Ryanair in Europe, a bag is under $25. Frontier is now usually over $60.

      1. re ancillary fees it does seem crazy that they haven’t tinkered with that pricing model. The ULCCs have essentially trained passengers to either not fly them as its presumed that the final fare is lower on full service competitors, or they take on losses for every pax because again, they have trained pax to avoid these fees.

        Ryanair fares (Ryanfares?) aren’t exactly dirt cheap garbage these days. For all the talk about them making money off ancillaries, it’s often noted by pax that they still end being cheaper than competitors even w/ those fees.

        The average ancillary fee paid by a Ryanair pax was €22.80 Euros per pax.

  6. It’s very expensive, inefficient and unreliable to run an operation the way Frontier was doing it. One crew time out or mechanical issue in the middle of a trip can cascade to many more flights downline. The problem is exacerbated by the fact they fly most markets sub-daily. From a crew pairing perspective, this can leave crews sitting in a hotel for 2-3 days costing the airline money. It’s also difficult to get aircraft into maintenance in that way. They can maintain the small number of point-to-point routes by flying “W” patterns where the A/C can still begin and end in a base (e.g. a plane flies DEN-PDX-ONT-PDX-DEN.) This increases reliability because if there is a blizzard on DEN and the plane is snowed in, the whole line of flying can be canceled and the aircraft and crew are already in DEN for the recovery.
    This is what allows airlines like JetBlue to route aircraft and crews into P2P markets like BDL and HPN.

  7. Slightly off topic, it’s interesting that F9 has added 18 destinations from PHX, many of which are daily or double daily, and there has been no response from AA. The same thing occurred in PHL.

    1. AA right now is hyper focused on dismantling it’s corporate sales team & it’s distribution system. They have no time to pay attention to what F9 is doing.

  8. American is competing with frontier. They are not ignoring them.

    On route where they overlap, American has basic economy fares that are very close to what frontier charges. And you get them without having to pay for soft drinks or a carry-on. And they have 50 times the flights and connectivity for the same price for these people.

    It’s actually a little frustrating because I can pay full fair, or close to it, and be sitting next to someone who paid a frontier affair for the same service. That’s the problem that American is going to have.

    1. I haven’t seen any $24 and $29 fares from the northeast airports to Atlanta (Basic Economy) on American. I’m I not looking hard enough?

      1. When AA decides to compete with Frontier, they’re almost never going to match their unbundled fare. They might be close in price to what Frontier will charge you with a carry-on. If you’re willing to fly Frontier with just a backpack for $29, AA is going to tell you to “go have fun” and not compete for your business (as they must, since you will be spectacularly unprofitable to any airline, INCLUDING Frontier!).

        1. The average Joe and Josephine doesn’t care about airlines being profitable. That’s airline geek talk. They just care about going to Miami or Atlanta with a backpack for the cheapest price. That’s why Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant and Sun Country are still in business. Seems airline geeks aren’t living in the real world.

      2. If F9 has to offer a $29 fare to fill a plane and AA doesn’t, where do you think the problem is?

  9. I’d like to try Frontier but every time I try to book a trip it ends up having a 12-18 hour layover in Denver or Orlando.

  10. Chicago has always been a base. They just moved most of the operations to MDW. MDW and ORD are a dual base. TTN is still considered a base, dual with PHL. FLL and MIA are also a dual base

    1. So, as a consumer, I’ve run into a problem with Frontier’s “out and back” model today. My flight was supposed to leave before the ungodly hour of 6 am. But there was a minor mechanical problem (an inaccurate warning light) and then, after pushing
      back, a modest bit of inclement weather hit the field. They got a new flight routing that added 20 minutes of flying time. Since they hadn’t loaded enough fuel for this route, we had to return to the gate. After refueling, the pilots realized that they likely wouldn’t be able to fly out and back in their 10 hour duty day, so they timed out and Frontier had to scramble to find a new crew (because there are none in the out stations). Another 2 hours of delay. I guess this could theoretically happen at any airline, but my guess is that it will now happen at Frontier more often.

      1. If you started in an outstation, that’s not an out and back. If it was an out and back and the flight was beginning in the base, they could swap in a new crew. If you were flying from an outstation to a base, it wouldn’t matter if they would time out before their duty period limit because they could be taken off their line in the base and swapped with a reserve crew for the next leg(s) of the day.

        1. I think what iahphx is saying is that because there are no crews in the outstations, the crew swap had to happen before the plane left the base. It couldn’t just go, have the crew time out/rest in the outstation and swap with a crew that would have operated something else.

    2. Charlie – No, Chicago has not.

      “Ultra-low fare carrier Frontier Airlines (NASDAQ: ULCC) today announced it will re-open a pilot base serving both O’Hare and Midway International Airports in May of 2024. Frontier previously maintained a pilot base in Chicago until April of 2022. The base is expected to employ up to 110 pilots within its first year of operation. Combined with 190 existing flight attendant positions, the Chicago base will house a total of 300 Frontier crew members.”
      https://news.flyfrontier.com/frontier-airlines-to-re-open-pilot-base-in-chicago/

  11. At least at MDW, Frontier has their own dedicated gates on the C-Concourse (C1-C3). Avelo used/uses C1 however will they return? However the gates on C are “Common Use” gates, so anyone could use them. The good news it’s only Frontier using those currently.

    At ORD, Frontier currently uses the gates in T5/M Concourse which are all “Common Use” except for Delta Gates in T5 (M2 – M11). Gate space is slim pickings.

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