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Since starting to work full-time for TPG in September 2016, I’ve flown all around the world. In the last 27 months, I’ve logged more than 625,000 miles on 46 different airlines ranging from Air Serbia to Vueling. But, as of December 2018, I still hadn’t flown two of the fastest-growing ultra-low-cost carriers in the US: Frontier or Spirit.
This wasn’t an intentional diss. Actually, I’m a huge fan of both airlines, as they drive down prices on mainline carriers when they enter a market. Since I have top-tier status on AA and Star Alliance Gold status, it’s always been a better value for me to fly on a mainline carrier in basic economy as I’d still get free checked bag, early boarding and other benefits.
But when I made the ridiculous decision to fly from Atlanta to Denver to Birmingham, AL just to hit 300,000 butt-in-seat miles for 2018, the cheapest option for the last-minute booking was Frontier. So, it was time for the Denver-based ultra-low cost carrier to become my 47th airline since September 2016 and my 64th airline since I started logging flights in OpenFlights.
Here’s what I learned from my first two experiences flying Frontier:
1. Check-In Late, Especially as a Solo Traveler
When you check-in to a Frontier flight without buying a seat assignment, it seems Frontier auto-assigns you the worst-available seat. That’s how I ended up assigned to the farthest-back available middle seat when I checked in the night before my flight.
That’s understandable when you think about it from Frontier’s perspective; the airline wants to still be able to sell the decent seats to those passengers who are unhappy with their auto-assigned seat. Based on my limited experience, I’d recommend waiting until the middle seats are taken before checking in — even if that means waiting until the airport.
2. Seats Have Different Prices at Different Times
This wasn’t something that I noticed until just now when looking back at my screenshots, so unfortunately, I don’t have all of the data points I want. That said, there’s definitely a difference in the prices of seats between when I checked in online the night before and when I was checking seat availability when in line at the airport.
While there are fewer choices in the second screenshot, the emergency exit row seats have all dropped by $2. That’s not huge, but it’s another reason that you might want to wait until later to check-in.
3. “BYO” Power and Entertainment
On its website, Frontier has a FAQ “Do you offer Wi-Fi, TV, movies, or other in-flight entertainment?” Frontier proudly responds:
These services are not currently available on Frontier flights. We would rather pass the cost-savings on to our customers and offer the lowest fares possible!
Also not included: power outlets. So, make sure to “BYO” power and entertainment. And prepare to be offline for your entire flight, which is easier for some than others.
4. Skip the Kiosks if You’re Checking Bags
In Atlanta, I dutifully checked in at a kiosk, figuring that I might be able to get a bag tag printed at the kiosk and skip the line. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. The kiosk did eventually spit out a boarding pass, but mostly served to try to upsell me. After losing a few minutes from the process, I still had to join the bag check line. For my second flight, I skipped the kiosks and went straight into the bag check line and had no issues getting my boarding pass at the same time I checked my bag.
5. Personal Bag Size Checks Weren’t Strict
My carry-on backpack is technically a bit too large to be a personal item on Frontier. While agents were making passengers size out their carry-on bags, they didn’t seem too worried about personal item sizing at check-in or boarding for both of my flights. That said, you’re at risk of having to pay a hefty $60 fee if you get caught by a strict agent.
6. The Packages Aren’t a Great Deal
For my first flight from Atlanta to Denver, I decided to go for the “premium” experience. In addition to my fare, I added on “The Perks” bundle for $74, which included a checked bag, a carry-on bag, free seat selection anywhere on the plane and priority boarding, which you get anyways with a purchase of a carry-on bag.
I was going to pay for a checked bag ($30 at booking) and an extra legroom seat ($35 at booking). Although I didn’t need a carry-on bag, I figured the extra $9 wasn’t bad to get on board early to take photos. Unfortunately, boarding started before I got to the gate, so that plan didn’t work out.
You’ll probably be best off going “a la carte” on the bag and seat fees. And if you want to be cheap, which most passengers flying Frontier are probably trying to be, you can decline each offer to select a seat and hope for a window or aisle seat at check-in.
If that doesn’t work out, you can always try to ask nicely at check-in for a better seat. That’s how I scored a change from a standard legroom middle seat to an extra legroom emergency exit row window seat for my flight from Denver to Birmingham. Although the agent said it was supposed to be a charge, she was able to override to give it to me for free as a “Christmas present.”
7. The Seats are Really Hard
If the tight pitch on the standard legroom seats wasn’t bad enough, the seats themselves are really hard. Trying to sleep during my first flight, I kept waking up to sharp pains on my tailbone and back from the stretched-out position in which I was trying to sleep. Sitting up straight in these seats wasn’t terrible for the three-hour return flight, but I still felt a little worse for wear. I’ll definitely keep this in mind the next time I’m looking at Frontier flights — and will probably skip Frontier for longer flights.
8. The Tray Tables Are Humorously Small
In standard legroom rows, the tray table is tiny. Between the 6-inch deep tray table and lack of pitch, don’t plan on getting any work done on a laptop in standard legroom rows.
That said, I was easily able to work on my laptop on both flights since I was in extra legroom seats (3A and 13A, respectively). So, if you’re planning on getting work done inflight, you’re going to want to get an extra legroom seat where there’s a standard-sized tray table.
9. There’s an On-Board Happy Hour
Well, not a happy hour in the traditional sense. But, the pricing for Frontier’s drinks and food mean that the more that you buy, the cheaper the rates. Alcoholic drinks cost $7.99 each while sodas, bottled water, coffee and snacks are $2.99 each. But, you can bundle:
- Breakfast on the fly (1 coffee, 1 snack): $4.99
- Snack Attack (2 soft drinks, 2 snacks): $9.99
- Make it a Double (2 adult beverages): $13.99
- Happy Hour (2 adult beverages, 1 mixer or soft drink, 1 snack): $16.99
- Buy 3 Get 1 Free (4 adult beverages): $23.97
- Double Happy Hour (4 adult beverages, 2 mixers or soft drinks, 2 snacks): $29.99
The last two packages are “built for two,” although it’s unclear if one passenger could order these four drinks just for themselves. Also note that the $2.99 coffee is “bottomless.” I tested this policy myself, ending up with three cups of coffee on my three-hour flight.
10. You Can Leave Your Tab Open
If you’d rather order one drink or snack at a time, you don’t have to swipe your card each time. Your tab is automatically kept open so you can keep ordering more.
11. Flight Attendants Work Really Long Days
When I boarded my 9:30pm flight from Atlanta to Denver, I was pretty groggy from already having worked a long day. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one. The flight attendants looked worn out and with good reason. They’d already flown from “Florida to New York to Atlanta” and now were flying on to Denver. While you should always be nice to flight attendants, you might want to give Frontier FAs a little more grace. They might be working a long day.
Know before you go.
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