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News : Complaints Against Frontier on the Rise as DIA Outsourcing Finalized
Denver, CO, USA, March 20, 2015 -- Trouble with a new passenger-management system and outsourcing 1,160 below-ramp and customer-service positions at Denver International Airport has led to a rush of customer complaints against Frontier Airlines that has the Better Business Bureau taking a closer look at the airline's rating.
"We have seen a significant spike in complaints just in the past month. We did do a file review on them last month. But due to the volume of complaints this month so far, we are going to do another one soon," said BBB spokeswoman Erin O'Neill. "Frontier does have an A+ rating as of right now."
The majority of complaints deal with customer service and are similar in nature to complaints filed against such businesses as Delta, Southwest and United airlines, all of which have either an A or A+ rating as well, O'Neill said.
Frontier swapped out its reservations and check-in system to Navitaire's New Skies during the March 7 weekend. Glitches with the implementation — some of which are to be expected with a large IT change — caused flight delays and website issues that left many customers unhappy.
The trouble could be compounded this weekend, when spring-break travel is expected to break DIA traffic records and, at the same time, Frontier officially turns over baggage handling, call center and counter operations to contractors Sitel and Swissport.
The airline says it's doing the best it can and asks travelers to be patient.
"Bottom line is there was a transition, and continues to be in many areas, as the old Frontier was a money loser ... PERIOD," airline spokesman Todd Lehmacher wrote in an e-mail. "This has been the best technology cutover in the industry in the past decade — look to other high profile cutovers ... and you will see that."
For example, when United and Continental Airlines' combined reservations systems in 2012, after the carriers merged, there was a rash of incorrect frequent-flier records, delayed flights and tied-up customer-service phone lines nationwide.
Lehmacher said Frontier is increasing staffing daily to handle customer calls, and the airline's on-time performance rate on Thursday — the most recent figure available — was 78 percent with no cancellations.
Customers, however, tell a different tale, complaining about delays, a malfunctioning website, overcharges for baggage, lost records, broken check-in kiosks, hours-long phone queues and airport lines that have caused missed flights.
Andy Reuter, his wife and their 1½-year-old daughter on Thursday arrived at DIA more than 90 minutes before their flight home to Nashville, Tenn. Unable to check in via app, website or kiosk — none was functioning — he was told to stand in line to check bags.
"We immediately knew we were in trouble because there were several lines backed up to the rear walls through the turnstiles, all full of angry people yelling at the poor Frontier employees," he said. Two hours later, the family of three reached the counter "only to find that we obviously weren't getting on a plane to Nashville. It was the woman's first day working there, and she was struggling to keep it together."
Reuter said his family was offered a refund. They then rebooked on Southwest — a roundabout route that took them from Denver to San Antonio, St. Louis and, finally, Nashville.
"I'll never fly Frontier again because the time lost is not worth the money saved," he said. "I won't be surprised if I don't get my refund after the four weeks it is supposed to take to transfer. I'll be surprised if Frontier doesn't fold before then."
Lehmacher said customers who have to pay to fly on another airline can submit receipts and Frontier will "determine whether a reimbursement is needed."
And, he says, issues such as this are par for the course during such a changeover.
"We can't fault our employees, and we are unable to train for every single adverse technology scenario that arises," he said. "These are some of the unexpected glitches that come with any large-scale technology transition, regardless of industry."
But when Reuter asked the airline's customer service @FrontierCare Twitter account about a reimbursement, he was told, "No, we don't reimburse other airline tickets. ^BG"
Mechanical issuesA similar situation prompted Tanya Arnold of Lakewood to file a BBB complaint March 10.
Arnold's Feb. 4 flight to Denver from Oklahoma City was canceled because of mechanical issues. She tried calling the airline to rebook, but "their phone number just says they are experiencing high call volume, and then it just hangs up on you."
So she waited in line at the airport with about 150 other people. By the time she got to the counter, passengers were being told it would be five days before they could fly to Denver.
"Southwest was more than happy to take our business," she said.
But the tickets for Arnold and her two toddlers on Southwest cost about $800. She already spent $341 for her Frontier travel.
She said Frontier offered her a $50 refund on her unused tickets and $150 future-travel vouchers for each passenger.
"Because we don't have interline agreements with other airlines, we aren't able to provide alternate travel on another airline or assume liability for the cost to purchase tickets on another airline," Frontier wrote to her.
The airline also invited her to use the vouchers.
"But why would anyone ever think that I'm going to take another chance and fly them and end up in the same boat?" she said.
Lehmacher, who admits the situation is frustrating, says the airline is working on a new policy. Several agreements allowing Frontier to book passengers on other airlines were canceled when Frontier moved to the ultra-low-cost carrier model.
"We are currently working on a more comprehensive policy of putting customers on other airlines when a lengthy delay or cancellation is encountered due to the fault of the airline," he said. "Our goal is always to operate reliably so that the need to put a customer on another carrier is rare."
Meanwhile, the @FrontierCare Twitter account has been overrun with complaints. As of Friday afternoon, the airline was just responding to complaints e-mailed around mid-February.
The bureau reviews all complaints within 24 to 48 hours of receipt. If they are deemed legitimate, they are forwarded to the business. Then the business must contact the customer directly or use the BBB as an intermediary to negotiate a resolution.
"If the company addresses the issues but the consumer is still dissatisfied, or if the company does not address the issues and resolve the complaint, BBB refers the consumer to the appropriate government agency to file a complaint through them," O'Neill said.
In the airlines' case, that would be the U.S. Department of Transportation. Customers have the right to submit grievances to the DOT at anytime — not just after BBB referral.
The DOT reviews all passenger complaints to ensure consumer-protection regulations are being met. If complaints spike, the DOT will contact the airline. The gathered data also affect an airline's rating, which is released to the public each month.
The 2014 year-end DOT report ranks Frontier as the airline with the most consumer complaints among the nation's 12 largest airlines.
All of this strife could have a detrimental effect on Frontier as it attempts to reinvent itself, said James Simmons, professor of aviation and aerospace science at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Airlines, he said, depend on customer goodwill, which is something that can't be squandered. Although he doesn't have direct knowledge of what Frontier is doing, he said airlines, generally, must be responsive and sometimes even bend over backward to make sure customers stay happy.
Why? Customers have a choice of which airline to fly. And it's easier for an airline to take a small financial hit to satisfy a disgruntled customer than it is to win back that customer, he said.
"So, maybe it will mean yes, we are going to lose some money this week because we've got to accommodate people, we are going to give vouchers or we are going to waive change fees or baggage fees or try to do something nice like give people more miles in their frequent-flier account — if we can find their record," Simmons said. "It seems to me, as an outsider, that kind of stuff gets remembered."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Frontier Airlines is a United States ultra low-cost airline headquartered in Denver, Colorado, USA.
Published: Tuesday, March 24, 2015