Recently, Frontier Airlines put up a billboard near my apartment regarding the lack of baggage fees for carry-on items. This seems like a weird thing to advertise; I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a fee for carry-on before, and certainly not on Frontier. I posted about it on Twitter and wound up in a conversation with a Frontier representative, who (after an Abbot-and-Costello-esque exchange), clarified that there is a new fee for passengers with carry-on items, but it only applies to passengers who don’t book through the Frontier website.
Living in Denver, Frontier has been my go-to airline for as long as I’ve been flying. When I say that they’ve lost my business, it isn’t because of the money—the fee wouldn’t even apply to me—it’s because of the attitude. Frontier says that this is intended to incentivize customers to use their website, but that’s putting lipstick on the pig. An incentive should be something you add, not something you take away. This is more like a punishment for anyone who doesn’t use the website.
But why bother? Your loyal customers would never notice the difference, but casual travelers are more likely to see the fee and assume that Frontier is another nickel-and-dime airline.
Frontier Airlines filed for Chapter 11 in April of 2008, then exited bankruptcy in October of 2009. An impressive turnaround, turning Frontier into Denver’s hometown heroes. Since then, there’s been a marked decline in services and amenities, making me wonder if their business isn’t being driven purely by fear of ending up in bankruptcy again.
Their signature customer appreciation move used to be the handing out of free chocolate chip cookies mid-flight. A small thing, it gave the flying experience a sense of warmth. I wasn’t around for the days when you could smoke a cigarette in the airplane bar, but I imagine a warm cookie is the next best thing. When the cookies disappeared, that should have been a warning. Then their DirecTV service, which used to be included for free with non-basic tickets and for all status members, went to being a pay service across the board. Then they started charging for soft drinks. Now this. Like hotels charging ridiculous fees for shitty wifi, it comes off as greedy and misguided. I’m willing to believe that operations costs for an airline are massive. I’m willing to believe that they barely make a profit. I’m not willing to believe that either of those things are my problem. If you have to charge more, fine. Just be honest about it.
At a certain level of complexity, a chart goes from being a feature matrix to a warning beacon.
As a capitalist I don’t mind Frontier going after more money, but this is a short-term maneuver. This is a company getting ahead (or staying afloat) by introducing new fees for old services, rather than creating or enhancing services, and I’m not willing to support that. I would pay more for experiential upgrades. Not as nickel-and-dime add-ons, but as part of my ticket. Show me that you want to be the best. Prove that you give a shit about your customers. Air travel is an awful experience for everyone involved. How are you making it better? (If you really want to impress me, stand with passengers against the bullshit TSA requirements.)
Maybe this new fee will be a huge source of revenue. Maybe it’s the sort of thing they have to do to keep from going bankrupt again. But they way they’ve gone about it just makes me feel dirty. With their billboard, Frontier tried to sneak something past me. Worse, they passed it off like they were doing me a favor. Now I’m left to wonder what they’re going to pull next.