Review: Frontier Airlines

On a recent trip to Chicago which I had to book 10 days prior to departure, I lucked into one of those deeply discounted flash sales that Frontier Airlines has from time to time. I was able to score a one way ticket from Syracuse to Chicago (ORD) for $15.

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From Albany International Airport, a one way ticket was going for nearly $400. Even when I factored in the $31 Amtrak ticket from Albany to Syracuse and the $10 Lyft ride from the train station to the airport, the savings were very significant and hard to ignore. I used to be very averse to low-cost-carriers such as Spirit and Frontier because of their poor on-time performance and lack of suitable contingency plans if a flight was cancelled. Based on OAG’s data from June 2018-May 2019, Spirit has really improved their punctuality as they now rank fourth among U.S. carriers in on-time performance.

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Frontier on the other hand is still struggling with on-time performance and I actually had to deal with a cancellation on a Frontier flight I took about two weeks after this one (they handled it very well and compensated me for my ticket on American Airlines). For $15, I just had to it. I mean that’s a ridiculously cheap price to get from point A to point B almost 700 miles away. Frontier was also the last of the major remaining U.S. carriers I had yet to fly on so this was also a great way to experience their product.

Checking In

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I used Frontier’s mobile app to check-in. The key with Frontier much like Spirit is knowing how their model works before flying. When you pay for your ticket, you are only entitled to the space under the seat in front of you. Carry-on bags cost $41 if you purchase in advance and $60 if you have to pay for it at the gate. This is the part where many people who have never flown on Frontier end up getting sticker shock. My bag fit comfortably under the seat and fit above with a little nudge to push it down. Checking in a bag costs $37 if paid for during booking, $40 if paid for during check-in, and $55 if paid for at the airport.  I was able to fit enough clothes for 3 days in the bag shown as well as my laptop in the laptop compartment. Another thing to keep in mind when flying on Frontier (especially when traveling with family) is that you can’t choose your seat assignment unless you pay. If you simply choose not to pay, Frontier will assign you a seat during mobile check-in.  This is similar to the basic economy structure on the larger carriers as well as Spirit Airlines.

Boarding

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Frontier’s Airbus A320 at Syracuse Hancock International Airport. Frontier has the youngest fleet among U.S. carriers. 

Frontier boards their elite members, active military members, and customers in Zone 1 (customers who have paid for their carry-on bags) first. That’s followed by Zone’s 2, 3 and 4. During the boarding process, the gate agents will eyeball everyone’s personal item and if it looks too big to fit under the seat, they will have you put it in the bin to see if it fits (or mostly fits).

 

In-Flight

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One of the beneficial aspects of having people pay for carry-on bags is that the boarding process flies by. Since people aren’t haggling for overhead bin space and attempting to stuff oversize bags in them,  most people find their seats and are seated rather quickly. The picture above illustrates this point perfectly. My flight had a lot of unused overhead bin space since most people are not going to pay $41 to carry on a bag. I’d guess the people that did bring in a carry-on bag were Frontier Airlines Credit Card holders who have a free carry-on as a perk.

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My personal item fit enough clothes for 3 days

As a low cost carrier, Frontier does not serve complimentary snacks on-board. They do serve complimentary Dasani water which is appreciated. They do have a variety of snacks and beverages for purchase. Another thing I noticed was their tray tables being very small. It certainly won’t hold a laptop and it’s just big enough to hold a large smart phone.

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Very small tray tables

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There is no online WiFi or in-flight seat-back entertainment so make sure you have your phones charged and have a movie downloaded prior to your flight. Frontier’s business model is cramming as many seats as they can onto their Airbus airplanes.  This means you won’t get a ton of leg space unless you pay extra for a “stretch seat” with additional pitch. The seats were thin but I did not find them to be uncomfortable for my flight.

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Frontier’s thin seats

 

 

 

Conclusion

My first time flying on Frontier was a good experience and it went about as I expected. If you do fly on Frontier, remember to sign up for their frequent flier program as there are a few benefits. First of all, Frontier awards miles based on distance flown rather than dollars spent. This means a really cheap transcontinental flight can earn you nearly 3,000 miles. A second benefit of their frequent flier program is no blackout dates. This becomes extremely valuable during peak travel times such as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the day before Christmas. Frontier prices these award tickets at 10k miles each way although I would assume there is probably a limited number of seats they allot for redemption. My only gripe about Frontier is their poor on-time performance and the bind it can put you in if your flight was cancelled. Since Frontier operates many routes just three or four times a week, a missed flight due to weather related issues could mean waiting two or three days to get to your destination. If a cancellation was due to their own shortcomings (mechanical, lack of a pilot, etc), they send you a link to book on a different airline and they reimburse you up to $400 to get to your destination. This happened during my second time flying Frontier but I was able to book with American for a flight that departed an hour later and it didn’t end up ruining my trip. If you absolutely have to get to a place on time, say for a wedding, a job interview, etc be aware that a weather related cancellation would yield you a refund or booking on a later Frontier flight. You would have to pay your own way to make it to your destination on time.

American Airlines Launching Non-Stop Service From Chicago to Venice and Philadelphia to Budapest and Prague

source: www.made-in-italy.com

Residents of Chicago and Philadelphia will have more non-stop options to Europe next summer as American Airlines announced seasonal service from both cities. American will fly from Chicago to Venice non-stop on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Philadelphia to Prague and Budapest on the Boeing 767. All three of these routes will run from May 4th-October-27th. Philadelphia will also see the return of daily non-stop service to Zurich, Switzerland. You can read more about Chicago to Venice here and Philadelphia to Budapest and Prague here.

Review: Spirit Airlines

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We have all heard horror stories from friends and family about flying Spirit Airlines. The much maligned “ultra low cost carrier” gets a bad rap for being the pioneer among U.S. carriers for excessive fees. Bringing an overhead carry-on into the cabin? That will set you back $37 if you pay for it during the booking process, $57 if you declare it during  check in at the airport, and a ridiculous $65 if you declare it at the gate. Forgot to print your boarding pass at home? Having them print your boarding pass at the airport will cost you $10 (although Spirit does have kiosks at some airports which allows you to print for free). Thirsty while on the plane? You’re not getting a complimentary beverage. I literally had to get a rundown of all the rules from a friend so they wouldn’t have that “gotcha” moment with me. Love them or hate them, this is Spirit’s business model and Wall Street will tell you it’s been a relatively successful one. In fact it’s been so successful that American, United, and Delta have all dedicated the rear of their cabin to basic economy where customers can purchase a similar no frills ticket at a cost that competes with Spirit and Frontier. When I fly an airline for the first time, I really look forward to the experience if they are known for excellence in customer service. Admittedly, I also look forward to flying an airline for the first time when the customer service is on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Morbid curiosity on whether my experience would affirm the hellish experience of others led me to book a flight on Spirit in January. It also helped that I was looking for a late flight from NYC to Chicago and Spirit offered the last flight to Chicago, a 10 pm departure. The one way fare was $59, or $20 cheaper than what the legacy carriers were charging for the same route. I didn’t check in any bags or have any item that was large enough to be classified as a carry-on. I purchased a rolling bag that was small enough to fit under the seat, but big enough to fit five days worth of clothes. I made sure to print out my boarding pass at home and wasn’t assigned a seat until I got to the airport (Spirit charges $5 if you want to select your seat).  For those of you traveling with children,  Spirit will try their best to seat families together but there is no guarantee without paying for advanced seat assignments. Checking in at LaGuardia was hassle free and off I went to my gate.

 

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One  of the many warnings to pay for your carry-on prior to arriving at the gate.

 

As I was waiting at the gate,  the thought occurred that this might not be terrible after all. I haven’t seen anyone get slugged, they haven’t had their “gotcha” moment with me, and I might get to Chicago in a timely manner. And then 10 minutes after that thought, I hear a Spirit gate agent announce “Good evening ladies and gentleman, Spirit flight 331 that was scheduled to depart for Chicago O’Hare at 10 pm is now scheduled to depart at 10:40 pm.” Okay then. I can live with a 40 minute delay.  This was something I expected prior to booking so I was not all that annoyed or disappointed. You see, Spirit Airlines is routinely ranked dead last among all U.S. carriers in on time performance. While many airlines structure their schedules to comfortably deplane, clean the plane, and board again, Spirit does not.  Their goal is to land and turn the plane around to their next destination as soon as possible. Their entire motto is if the plane is sitting idle, it is isn’t making money so more time in the air is good, more time on the ground is very bad. This works fine throughout the day if weather and maintenance issues don’t creep up. But if something goes wrong earlier in the day, the domino effect is felt all the way until the last flight takes off. And that is precisely what occurred with my flight (as well as the flight scheduled to depart before mine). But again, 40 minutes was not the end of the world. It can be a whole lot worse.

 

Spirit is usually at the bottom for on time performance among U.S. carriers

 

Now it was time to board the flight. The Spirit gate agents eyeballed everyone’s carry-on luggage and checked to see if anything that wasn’t fitting in the personal item bin had been paid for as a carry-on item. This is the step when people who don’t pay attention to the rules or have never flown Spirit end up wasting away the savings they got on their low fare. If your carry-on was not paid for or your personal item is too big for the bin, you’re paying $65 at the gate. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I looked to see if any unwitting passenger got caught and fortunately no one did. It seemed like everyone on the flight was either a Spirit veteran or a rookie who knew the rules.

 

 

If your personal item does not fit in this bin, I can assure you the rest of your day will not be pleasant.

 

When I boarded the flight I braced myself for the industry low leg room that Spirit offers. Once I was seated, it certainly felt more spacious than that. It’s quite possible that the smaller seat size created an artificial feeling of extra leg room but it felt like any other airline seat in coach. The one catch? Spirit seats do not recline. This is fine for a 90 minute flight. I couldn’t imagine the discomfort on a transcontinental flight.

 

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I had plenty of legroom with space to spare. Your miles might vary depending on your height

 

Once on the flight, Spirit did not offer any complimentary beverages or snacks but they did make them available for purchase  There was no WiFi (free or paid) or seat-back entertainment. They managed to get me home safely and that was all that I expected.

Would I recommend flying Spirit? Yes, but with a few caveats.  Above all, you would have to score a really cheap fare. A lot cheaper than the competition. If you scored a really cheap fare and you are on a leisure trip where you can afford to be late by several hours in case of the inevitable delay, go for it. If you are on a route that isn’t between two airports that suffer from chronic delays, you might also fare better.

When should you avoid Spirit? If you are flying on the day of a wedding, an interview, a meeting, a funeral, or if you are flying in the winter months to or from a cold weather city. If you are planning to use Spirit to connect to a different airline on the same day, think long and hard about it.

Here are a few odd facts about Spirit Airlines: If you go to the airport and book your flight, you will save on the passenger usage fee which is usually around $15-$18.  It seems odd that in 2017, an airline would discourage booking online vs booking in person but that’s what Spirit does.  Spirit also charges MORE for a carry-on than they do for a checked-in bag. So if you have a rolling bag that’s too large to be a personal item and doesn’t contain anything of significant value, you’re better off just checking it in. It costs $32 when you pay for it during booking (this increases to $52 if you pay for it at the airport) and your bag can be as heavy as 40 lbs.

I have heard from friends that if you ask to be seated in an exit row seat at the gate, Spirit agents will put you there at no cost if it’s available. This will give you plenty of leg room if you can score a seat. It doesn’t hurt to ask and the worse thing that can happen is them saying “no.”

Spirit also has a frequent flier program called Free Spirit. Any flight you take with them will earn miles. In addition to that, they have a unique program called the $9 fare club which gives you access to lower fares and cheaper check-in fees for a cost of $59 per year. I suppose if you are really loyal to Spirit and fly them multiple times per year, it’s a program which might benefit you.