Flight review: What it’s like to fly Frontier Airlines, from Miami to Newark on the Airbus A320neo
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During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. Instead, we have been publishing a selection of our most popular reviews from the past year. However, we have now resumed the publication of new, previously unpublished flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken before the lockdown. We hope this will help you choose once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.
The flight was on time; pleasant enough interactions with all staff members I encountered.
Expensive add-ons to the airfare, thin seats that would be uncomfortable on longer flights and a terribly small tray table.
In late February, before the world came to a screeching halt, I spent a weekend in Miami, Florida, as part of a trio of TPGers sent to determine which is the best way to fly between New York and Miami.
This, of course, happened before the coronavirus pandemic forced us to stay home, and there’s no telling what the commercial flight landscape is going to look like as the world begins to recover. In fact, my colleague Victoria Walker flew down to Miami in business class on American’s Boeing 767, an airplane that has now been retired because of the drop in demand from the pandemic.
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I flew from NYC on Spirit Airlines, and back on Frontier, Spirit’s top competitor in the ultra-low-cost segment. Both of those flights were on new Airbus A320neo jets.
There’s a good chance that these airlines will play a major role in getting Americans flying again, thanks to their typically very low fares.
So, what was a 2.5-hour flight like on America’s second-biggest ultra-low-cost carrier after Spirit? Read on to find out.
Frontier and its peers in the ultra-low-cost space are known for extremely low prices, though I didn’t get to take advantage of that since we booked at the very last minute. Keep in mind that after you purchase your ticket, you’ll be charged for just about everything else: checked bags, carry-on bags, an earlier boarding group, a seat and then all food and beverages on board the aircraft. That’s why we’ve assembled a guide with everything you should know before flying Frontier Airlines.
The one-way ticket from Miami to Newark cost $259, and then I paid $32 for my seat selection and $40 for my checked bag, which was less than the cost of a carry-on. The grand total came to $331, which is very pricey on any airline for a one-way ticket between Florida and NYC, but this was a last-minute booking at the end of spring break.
If you book in advance, prices on Frontier look very different. For example, on May 1 the Frontier site had one-way tickets between Miami and Newark or in the other direction, for midweek days in May ad June, for as low as $29.
We paid with The Platinum Card® from American Express in order to take advantage of the card’s 5x bonus category on airfare purchased directly through the airline (or with American Express Travel). We earned a total of 1,655 Membership Rewards points, worth about $34, according to TPG’s current valuations.
While I had an overall positive ground experience with Spirit at LGA airport in New York, unfortunately the same can’t be said of my Frontier experience in Miami. Part of this comes down to the individual airport, for sure, but Frontier didn’t handle the things within its control all that well, either.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 8:30 a.m., so I arrived just before 6:30 a.m. to have adequate time for a full ground experience. And, since I was arriving so early, I thought I wouldn’t have lines to contend with and it would be an easy process.
I was wrong. There were many people gathered around Frontier’s check-in and bag-drop desks, and not enough staff members to handle the crowd. Making matters worse, there were no self-service check-in kiosks for passengers to use to speed up the process.
About 20 minutes later, I made it to the front of the line and was able to check my bag to Newark, and the brief interaction I had with the agent was pleasant.
The experience didn’t improve at all on the other side of the security checkpoint, though this isn’t the fault of the airline, but rather a reflection on the particular concourse — G in this case — at Miami International Airport (MIA). The ceilings are low, the lighting harsh, the windows small and the food options relatively limited.
I did catch a glimpse of a spectacular sunrise, though!
On my way to Gate G14, I scoped out any potential places for breakfast since I’d left my hotel too early to have breakfast there, and the only open place near my gate was a Pizza Hut. I was able to snag a breakfast sandwich, but it’s safe to say it wouldn’t have been my first choice had there been more options.
I brought my sandwich back to the gate and waited for the boarding process to begin. MIA has numerous Priority Pass lounges which you can access with memberships that come with several premium credit cards such as The Amex Platinum or the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Alternatively there are several restaurants at the airport that participate in Priority Pass by giving diners a credit to use. And, of course, Miami is home to one of American Express’ Centurion Lounges, which would be my first choice to visit. However, all of these lounges and restaurants are located in different concourses and I didn’t want to traverse the airport, so I stayed put.
Before I left for Miami I purchased a seat and a checked bag, but foolishly didn’t purchase a bundle that also included priority boarding, so I boarded in Zone 4. The boarding process itself began on time and felt just as orderly (or disorderly, depending on your point of view) as any other domestic U.S. airline.
Cabin and Seat
This particular A320neo configuration (the A320neo is basically an A320 with newer, quieter and more fuel-efficient engines) sports 168 seats total in a 3-3 configuration. Each seat is about 17 and three-quarters inches wide, which is standard for this aircraft type.
There are 36 “Stretch” seats on board which feature from 36 to 38 inches of legroom, though unlike Spirit with its Big Front Seat, these are not any wider and are still arranged in a 3-3 configuration. They do, however, have full-size tray tables, which is a big deal on low-cost carriers.
Standard pitch (or legroom) is only 28-29 inches on these aircraft, and while it’s tight it doesn’t feel oppressive since the seats themselves are so thin.
One thing I noticed immediately upon settling into my aisle seat is that this aircraft was equipped with actual seatback pockets, which I counted as a win.
These seats are thinly padded and offer no recline, so the same line of thinking from my Spirit flight prevails: They’re fine for quick hops up and down the East Coast (or any flights of similar length), but I certainly wouldn’t want to cross the country — or more — in one of these.
Also familiar was the foldable surface that’s supposed to be a tray table. I won’t even call it that because it’s hardly big enough to fit my iPhone, never mind a computer. It was dirty, too, though I had disinfectant wipes with me which certainly came in handy.
These utilitarian seats are just that. I was pleased to have an actual seatback pocket and I was comfortable enough for the two-and-a-half hour journey, but I could see myself needing frequent stretch breaks if the flight had been much longer.
Amenities and IFE
I went in to this flight expecting a bare-bones experience and that’s exactly what I got. There’s no seatback power, no Wi-Fi, no entertainment. Just like on my Spirit flight on the way down to Florida, I entertained myself by practically memorizing the inflight menu at my seat.
I understand that Frontier’s business model is based on offering no frills whatsoever, but even the inclusion of seatback power would go a long way in making the experience more enjoyable for everybody.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
As is typical with the ultra-low-cost model, all food and beverage served on board has to be purchased. Frontier had a pretty robust selection of snacks and drinks available, too, which I appreciated.
For individual items, you can expect to pay from $2.99 for bottled water and soft drinks up to $8.99 for liquors, wines, beers and more. There are combo packs as well, which are convenient for families traveling together — or if you’re just really hungry.
I picked the Grizzly Bear Snack Pack for $5.99 which included a beef jerky stick, crackers, cheese spread and a bag of dark chocolate, açai and blueberry-flavored bites; and paired that with an airline favorite of mine: Minute Maid Cran-Apple juice.
I was pleased with my choice and it made for a good midflight snack, but it was a pain trying to arrange it all on my not-tray table.
No surprises, which is good for economy and even better for economy on an ultra-low-cost carrier.
On flights such as these, if there are no notable service snafus, that’s a win. I have nothing bad to say about any of the crew members, desk or gate agents I interacted with. Overall, the service was comparable to anything you’d get on a legacy carrier, especially for a flight of this length.
After a weekend of ultra-low-cost flights, I have basically the same impression as I did when I landed in Fort Lauderdale after my Spirit flight.
Would I go out of my way to fly Frontier again? No, especially if the price differential between it and my preferred carrier wasn’t all that significant. However, if Point A isn’t that long of a flight from Point B, and you want to get between the two in the most inexpensive way, and you know what you’re up against going into the experience, there’s absolutely no reason to shy away from an airline like Frontier.
All photos by the author unless where otherwise noted.
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