By: Tom Brussow, Owner-Sunsational Beach Vacations
March 30, 2023
Dear Frontier Airlines Executives:
I own a travel agency in Pewaukee, WI; Sunsational Beach Vacations. We book a significant number of Frontier flights (354 passengers already this year) as a part of vacation packages with our top supplier; Funjet Vacations. I have never asked for nor received a single thing directly from your company despite our production. The reality is that I couldn't, even if I wanted to, as you (inexplicably) no longer accept phone calls and provide zero service support to travel advisors.
Over the years, I have flown countless times with Frontier for business and personal vacations, mostly from ORD. I have to bring a laptop, client files, etc. along on each trip as my responsibility to my clients does not end, even if I'm on vacation. I have carried on the same laptop bag/briefcase every time without issue. However, this time, the gate staff for our flight to Punta Cana was extremely aggressive in catching and charging people for carry-on bags...is it possible they are getting a cash incentive to drive "at the gate" revenue?
So, somehow my laptop briefcase, even though it meets the size requirements, did not fit as the small wheels were about 1/2 inch above the top of the Frontier "bag-o'meter". To my huge surprise, the gate agent was not having it and took me and my daughter out of the boarding line and told me I had to pay the carry-on bag fee. She very abruptly said, "You need to go to the website and pay the fee!"
This was extremely stressful and embarrassing and when I accessed my reservation on the app, I couldn't figure out how to quickly add and pay for the bag. When I asked for help, the same agent said, "you have to figure it out yourself!" Well, that didn't happen so my daughter and I stood there in a mild panic and waited for the plane to completely board. At that point, we went with the agent to the counter, along with a few other travelers, to pay. She never said a word and took my payment. She charged me $99 for the briefcase, even though the carry-on charge is $64! So, all in, I paid Frontier $605.20 for checked/carry-on bags and seat assignments for two people for this trip. I'm sure that warms the heart of your CFO, but even you have to admit that is far beyond ridiculous. And, the briefcase I was charged for, easily fit under the seat in front of me once we boarded!
So then, Frontier executives, is this a relatively minor transgression in the big scheme of things? Probably. And, yes, it is somewhat about the money. But, more so, this story is an example of a terrible customer experience that absolutely did not have to happen. One that is symtomatic of and prevalent in your organization in my humble opinion. As, the agent that we encountered at the gate could have cared less about me or my daughter's travel experience. To her, we were clearly not "customers", we were a transaction. Not once did I see a smile or hear a friendly greeting to my fellow travelers. It appeared her main job was to scan boarding passes and catch people to ensure all possible carry-on bag fees were collected. (FYI, the ticket counter agents and flight attendants had pretty much the exact same demeanor not surprisingly...to my point.)
Moving forward, I am committed to only fly and book Frontier for my clients when I absolutely have to and would advise others to do the same. And, I think I owe it to my clients to share my story so that they can be better informed and prepared for the service shortfalls they are likely to face when flying Frontier.
Why? Because, you continue to demonstrate an indifference to the needs of the customer and how you treat them can be pretty generally horrible as I, and many of my clients know first-hand all too well. We get constant complaints about bag and seat fees, cancelled and delayed flights, the onboard experience, withheld and delayed refunds, denials of appropriate compensation, and the poor treatment customers get on a consistant basis. We're all standing by anxiously waiting for the next customer indignity to roll out. My money is on the "Pay$2Pee Fee"! I jest, but would anyone actually be surprised?
I am guessing that you too already know all of this, as the number of stories you get that are similar to mine is probably significant. In fact, I am willing to bet that this is likely totally acceptable to you, and is intentionally baked into the transactional business model that is driving your decustomerization…a.k.a. “Yeah, we treat people like crap and yeah some people are gonna to be pissed off, but at the end of the day, we’ll still have their money and that's all that really matters!”
While this might play in today's market, one thing I know with absolute certainly is that no industry is as predictably cyclical and volatile as the airline industry. At some point, the momentum will surely change and/or a more saavy and customer-friendly competitor will join the fray. When that occurs, the smell of a business strategy based on decustomerization will be hard to wash off.
To be sure, there is far more in a customer and business relationship that matters to me and to my clients, and I will not soon forget how your agent, and your adversarial approach to your customers, made me and my daughter feel. Let's hope that other businesses don't follow your ill-advised lead as that would be hugely detrimental to our industry.