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News : Complaints are Still Soaring at Frontier Airlines
Denver, CO, Sept 11, 2015 -- Consumer complaints about Frontier Airlines rose in July from the previous month and from a year earlier, despite the Denver-based airline's attempts to wrestle with late flights and other persistent customer-service issues.
The airline's complaint rate for the month was more than triple the norm for 13 major U.S. airlines, according to the latest monthly Air Travel Consumer Report from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Frontier did improve on its average customer complaint rate in July from the first six months of the year.
But the airline remains lodged in second-to-last place among major carriers for complaints -- exceeded only by Spirit Airlines, which like Frontier is an "ultra low cost" airline and which once was run by some of Frontier's current leaders.
In July, Frontier posted 7.5 consumer complaints per 100,000 "enplanements," or aircraft boardings. That was up from 6.52 per 100,000 the month before and 4.22 in July 2014.
Only Spirit, with 12.56 complaints per 100,000, had a worse record in July. The average complaint rate for 13 big carriers that month was 2.17 per 100,000.
By comparison, Alaska Airlines had the industry's best complaint rate in July: 0.23 per 100,000 enplanements, or only five complaints out of 2,176,556 boardings.
Southwest Airlines -- DIA's No. 2 carrier -- had the second-best July complaint rate: 0.66 per 100,000.
United Airlines -- DIA's No. 1 carrier, and which has had its own customer service issues in the wake of its merger with Continental Airlines -- ranked just ahead of Frontier in the DOT's July report, but its complaint rate was less than half that of the Denver carrier: 3.59 per 100,000.
Frontier in July did improve on its average complaint rate of 10.17 per 100,000 enplanements for the January-through-June period, federal data show.
Also, thanks to Spirit, Frontier managed to avoid the worst-in-the-business label that it bore in both 2013 and 2014.
In July, out of 89 total passenger complaints about Frontier, 24 were for "flight problems," defined by the DOT as "cancellations, delays or any other deviations from schedule."
Another 20 complaints were for baggage issues, and 16 were classified as "reservations-ticketing-boarding" complaints, which the DOT defines as "airline or travel agent mistakes made in reservations and ticketing; problems in making reservations and obtaining tickets due to busy telephone lines or waiting in line, or delays in mailing tickets; problems boarding the aircraft (except oversales)."
The DOT report does not cover safety or security complaints, which are filed with other agencies.
Meanwhile, Frontier also scored the second-to-worst record for on-time flight arrivals in July, again topped only by Spirit.
DOT said 71.4 percent of Frontier's flights arrived on time that month at U.S. airports, versus an industry norm of 78.1 percent.
At DIA alone, Frontier's July arrival rate was 71.8 percent, while the average for major airlines was 76.9 percent.
For the 12 months ending in July, Frontier flights were on time 71.9 percent of the time, versus the norm of 78.2 percent.
DOT regards arrivals within 15 minutes of schedule as on time.
In interviews with the DBJ's Ed Sealover and elsewhere, Frontier executives have acknowledged they have a customer-complaint issue and are working on improving it.
But as Sealover has reported, both current Frontier President Barry Biffle and former CEO David Siegel, who resigned in May, have downplayed the high complaint rate as secondary to other changes that Frontier has made that will keep it profitable and sustainable in the future.
Those steps include outsourcing its call center, slashing unprofitable routes, wedging more seats onto its planes and scaling back frequent-flier perks -- even eliminating toll-free customer-service calls.
They also have attributed at least some of the gripes to long-time passengers who miss the "old" Frontier before it adopted an a-la-carte pricing policy and began to scale back its emphasis on flights to and from Denver in favor of other cities.
Frontier's market share at DIA has been declining as it turns more of its attention to other airports under new ownership. Frontier has been owned since 2013 by Bill Franke's Phoenix private equity firm Indigo Partners.
Those moves were necessary, executives say, to bring Frontier back to profitability.
Frontier has taken steps recently that appear to be aimed at appeasing some dissatisfied customers, such as introducing a fare -- called "The Works" -- that includes a set of bundled services for a set price.
It also announced it would make its middle seats wider, and talks about addressing its tardy-flight problem by working on getting its early-in-the-day flights off on time.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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More Editorial From Frontier Airlines
About Frontier Airlines:
Frontier Airlines is a United States ultra low-cost airline headquartered in Denver, Colorado, USA.
Published: Wednesday, September 16, 2015