Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Trip Report: Frontier Airlines, Atlanta to New Orleans (July 2015)

A Trip Report: Flying Frontier Airlines (July 2015)

I was looking to fly from Atlanta to New Orleans and originally had looked at Delta and Southwest, as those were the carriers I knew that flew that route.  The average price on both carriers for a one-way flight ranged from $160-$200.  I then went to online travel sites and did a search and that is when I discovered that Frontier Airlines also flies the route – at a much lower cost.  Even booking two days before,  a one-way flight on a Sunday costs $99 (including taxes) which is extremely inexpensive, so I investigated why it was so inexpensive – Frontier is an ultra LCC.  This is flying on the new Frontier

I had previously flown Frontier about 10 years ago through their Denver hub and that is when they were more of a standard carrier; flying on them now, things are a little different as an ultra LCC.  In this model, everything is considered extra and has a charge associated with it.  A carry-on that will fit in the overhead compartment – a charge; a checked-bag – a charge; choosing your own seat – a charge; drinks and food on board – a charge.  The only items that are not charged are a carryon bag that can fit underneath the seat, and a glass of water on board.  While all the ‘extra charges’ may be obnoxious to some, to others it may be the best deal because you only pay for what you need.  For me, it was a good deal given my travel time and needs.

I was flying one-way from Atlanta to New Orleans and was looking for a decent airline that provided a decent service at a reasonable price.   When I looked online, the fare for Frontier was $99 (including taxes). If I wanted to choose a seat, that would cost $5 extra ($10 if I did it at check-in).  I could also choose a seat with extra legroom, and that would cost $12 extra ($20 if I did it at check-in).  If I wanted to bring a bigger carryon and stow it in the overhead, that was a charge of $35 (more if I did at check-in, even more if it was gate-checked).  If I wanted to check a bag, that was a charge of $20 (more if I did at check-in, even more if I did it at the counter).  This is something which surprised me – the checked bag was $15 less than the charge for the carryon.  I guess this means less carryon luggage so faster boarding – just seemed interesting to me.   If I wanted to add all of these items into the price, then the Frontier fare would be comparable to what the other carriers would be charging; however, I did not need any of that stuff so I did not choose that option and my fare was $99.  I booked my ticket and received my confirmation.

24-hours prior to boarding I received an email reminding me to check-in.  Frontier strongly encourages online check-in and printing boarding passes at home – with no check-in luggage and only carryon, printing everything at home meant going directly to security.   I did not pay for a seat when I booked my ticket, nor did I pay for a seat when I checked-in so after check-in and when the boarding pass was ready, that is when I found out my seat number.  Frontier flies all Airbus planes and usually in a 3-3 layout, so if you do not pay for the seat and play the lottery you could end up with a window, middle or aisle.  I was lucky and got an aisle, but it was all the way in the back of the plane.  For some of my family, who prefer an aisle and want to sit closer to the plane we paid the $5 to reserve the seat.  Also, if you do not want to be separated from your group you need to pay.

Boarding pass in hand and with only a carryon (a laptop bag) I went past the airline counters and went directly to security.  This is the only negative I see with Frontier – they do NOT participate in TSA pre-check so if you are part of that (or of Global Entry) then you cannot avail yourself of this option while flying Frontier. TSA pre-check saves so much time so I am not sure why they do not partake, since it would be a benefit to their customers who choose to pay for it.  Since they do not participate in TSA precheck, you have to wait in the long security lines (and they are long at ATL).  The departure time was scheduled for 7:05pm but that is not what is printed on the boarding pass – what is printed are the timings the boarding starts and the time the door closes (which is 15 minutes prior to departure).  This is to ensure an on-time or early departure. 

This new process seemed to have worked as we boarded early, and we were able to push back from the gate early.  In regards to the on-board service, Frontier has talked about ‘reinventing the on-board experience’ which meant slim-line seats, less cushion, already pre-reclined seats that could not be adjusted, less leg room, and other cost-cutting measures.  I am not sure how far into the implementation of this ‘reinvention’ they are in because the plane we flew did not have the new seats.  Rather, this plane had the older green, leather seats which are wide, can be reclined, have some padding, and have a lot of legroom (I am 6ft and I had enough legroom so where my knees were NOT hitting the seat in front of me – whereas on other carriers my knees have been squashed by the seat in front of me).   The older seat was comfortable and decent for the duration of the flight. 
The older plane also had the personal IFE which can provide live DirectTV for a fee.  From my understanding Frontier is discontinuing this service in the ‘reinvention’.  The fee to access the TV is $5 and you can swipe your card to access the TV – the flight path map can be viewed for free.  The screens are fine for a longer-haul journey, but they are small (tiny in fact) and the controls for the system are on the armrest so you can accidentally hit the controls when you are resting your arm (which I did many times).

What was part of the ‘new’ Frontier was the service on board – as it’s a paid service so if you would like food or drink, you have to pay.  The prices vary from $1.99 for a soft drink to higher for other drinks and snacks.  They will provide a glass of water for free.   I had brought my own drink and food at the airport so I did not buy anything on board – this is the biggest instance where some are complaining about Frontier.  I have been on longer flights – about 2.5 hours – on mainline carriers where for that long duration you only get one free drink and that is it, and for that they charge a lot.  I do not mind brining my own drink if I am getting a lower fare – and that is what Frontier offers.

Overall, given the short duration and the low fare it was a really good flight that left on time and arrived early!  Given Frontier is moving to the ultra LCC model, I was expecting a lot worse so maybe that is why my expectations were exceeded.  If you know what to expect, then you can get a decent flight on a very inexpensive fare.   

Based on this experience, would I book Frontier again?  If the fare was low and my travel needs were the same then definitely yes.  The $99 fare was extremely low given that Southwest and Delta were charging between $160-$260 for the same route and time.  Given that and given the travel time and my travel needs, Frontier was the best option.  My family has booked future flights on the same route, and sometimes we have booked Frontier while other times we have booked Southwest.  Sometimes Frontier provided the best fare while other times their fare was comparable to Southwest, but Southwest provided additional services (free luggage and free changing of travel plans) which Frontier does not so based on those extra and our travel needs, we made the decision.  Hope this review helps you in your decision making.