Review: Frontier Airlines

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.

FrontierAirfare

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.

OntimeRankings

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

PersonalItem

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

FrontierPlane
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

EmptyOverhead

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.

PersonalItemUnderSeat
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.

FrontierBeverage
Very small tray tables

FrontierMenu

FrontierMenu2

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.

FrontierSeats
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.

Getting the Dreaded SSSS On Your Boarding Pass

Getting the Dreaded SSSS On Your Boarding Pass

Traveling using frequent flier miles and points certainly has many advantages, such as making business class travel attainable for the casual traveler, and regardless of the ticket class you purchased, you’re saving money compared to booking with cash. However, there are instances where you might book using points from one airline in getting to your destination and use points for a different airline during your return. As far as I can remember, I haven’t ever used miles for the same airline going and coming back. For example, I’ve flown on United miles going to Europe while flying on American miles coming back multiple times. I was able to minimize the number of miles I needed to use by planning my itinerary this way. The only issue? Booking international tickets one way will often result in getting the dreaded SSSS on your boarding pass. SSSS stands for secondary selective screening selection. For me, the biggest giveaway that I’ll end up with SSSS on my boarding pass on the return trip is when I’m unable to check-in for my flight 24 hours before takeoff. The mobile app will tell me “please check in at the airport” or I’ll get an error message.  For a traveler that’s designated SSSS, the only way to get check-in is at the ticketing booth at the airport. When you receive your boarding pass at the airport, the capitalized SSSS will be highlighted by the ticketing agent. Once you are in line and the security and the customs officer scans your boarding pass, either a red light will flash or there will be beeping sound, alerting the agent of your SSSS designation.  It’s also important to note that there are other factors that may also be in play. Your name (there may be someone with the same name or similar that may be on the watch-list), the region you are traveling to and from, and your citizenship status could all play a role.

 

SSSS.jpg
My SSSS designation from Dubai to NYC last summer

Every country differs on their protocol for conducting the secondary screening. In Reykjavik, Iceland, I was taken a to a separate room and all the contents of my carry-on bag were removed. All electronics were swabbed and scanned and the procedure was completed in 10 minutes. The personnel were very friendly and explained what they were going to do in advance. In San Jose, Costa Rica, the security personnel gave me a pat down and searched my bag right at the gate. I actually hated this experience since almost everyone on my Southwest flight headed to Baltimore was already at the waiting area. I had 170 pair of eyeballs watching me as one agent thoroughly searched and swabbed my backpack and all its contents while the other gave me a thorough pat down.

There are also instances where you might get SSSS on your boarding pass when traveling domestic. This occurred in 2015 when my wife and I returned from Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul was deemed as a high risk travel area (it still might be), and anyone returning home from that area was getting SSSS on their boarding pass for the ensuing months. Upon returning, my wife and I had domestic flight from Chicago (ORD) to NYC (LGA), a flight we had taken countless times. This time, we both received the SSSS on our boarding pass, much to our surprise. The TSA officer asked if we had been anywhere recently. I told him we were in Istanbul the prior week and he explained everyone coming back from that region was being selected for secondary screening. He wasn’t wrong as even people with TSA Pre-check and Global Entry were being flagged from secondary screening. In this instance, we were both given thorough pat downs (more like a massage) and had every electronic device swabbed and scanned. Our laptops had to be taken out and powered on. Even The Points Guy had a similar experience upon returning from Turkey around that same time and you can read about that here.

If you do get an SSSS on your ticket, be cooperative and understand that the security personnel are just following protocol and doing their jobs. It will make the process easier, quicker, and you’ll be on your way a lot sooner. During my recent trip to Argentina, my wife and I did not get the SSSS (finally!). But if you can’t check-in 24 hours in advance, budget more time than you normally would when heading to the airport.

 

Beware of How You Joke Around With a Pilot – First Hand Account

Beware of How You Joke Around With a Pilot – First Hand Account

Thanks to Tyler Stone, a great friend and special contributor to MilesForPlaces for sharing this first hand account on a recent flight from Orlando, Florida to Albany, NY.

“On this day, my JetBlue flight was scheduled for an 11:40 am departure out of Orlando to Albany. The boarding process was business as usual.  Everyone  was already on the plane.  Then around noon, just prior to taxiing out to the runway, the Captain announced that there would be a further delay. He went on to say that he had been piloting for over 25 years and takes his job very seriously. He has built his life and his family around this career and has a clean record (sounds very agitated)

At this point, everyone started looking at each other like “what the hell is going on?” Captain continued that a passenger had claimed he saw the pilot at the bar and that these kinds of statements are taken very seriously.

“If a passenger makes these types of statements and other passengers overhear this, it can cause widespread panic among other flyers. Because of this,  I’m going to have to step off the plane and conduct some tests to ensure I am safe to fly. I can assure you that I have not consumed any alcohol prior to this flight and the gentleman who made this statement claimed he made it in a joking manner”

All the passengers were clearly annoyed at the man who made the comments. The Captain then mentioned that FAA personnel would have to meet with him and clear him prior to flying. An airport employee came on the plane and escorted the elderly gentleman who made the comments. He looked pretty embarrassed and obviously knew he messed up.

The Captain ended his brief speech reiterating that the passenger had clearly said he was just joking after the fact but these kind of statements are taken seriously and need to be followed up on.  The Captain said “you wouldn’t joke about having weapons while going through TSA. Likewise, it’s not appropriate to make these types of ‘jokes’.”

About 10 minutes or so passed. The elderly passenger who made the statement was led back onto the plane. Again, he looked visibly embarrassed and had just about every eyeball on the plane honed in on him.

A few moments later the pilot came back on and said everything was taken care of and we would be departing shortly (he still sounded very angry at this point). The rest of our flight was pretty uneventful and we got to Albany safely. The moral of the story, don’t compromise a pilot’s ability to do his job by making a smart ass comment that can get him in trouble.”