Review: Frontier Airlines A319 Denver To Philadelphia

Last week I shared the story of my first ever flight on Spirit. The flight itself was fine, but the check-in process took over an hour and concluded with the agents disregarding the line and instead calling passengers up in the order their flight was departing.

As irritating as that was, it still wasn’t my worst experience with a low cost carrier this year. Here’s the story of my Denver to Philadelphia redeye-turned-early morning-departure on Frontier from late April.

Choosing to fly Frontier

As I explained in the review of my Spirit flight, I don’t get terribly excited about flying random airlines. I’m a United Premier 1K and am generally pretty happy to stick with the devil I know. I’ll even pay a little more just to stay in my comfort zone. But like anyone, there are limits to my loyalty.

So when United and the other legacies were all charging $350 for a one-way flight from Denver to Philadelphia back in April, I figured I could save some money with Frontier where tickets were only $100. Even after paying $30 for a checked bag, I was still going to come out way ahead. I had previously flown Frontier from Denver to Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, and Detroit (though that was prior to them morphing into a low cost carrier) without issue so I more or less knew what to expect.

I didn’t really like the 1:20 AM departure on a Sunday morning, but for $200+ in savings, I figured I could skip a night of sleep. Moreover, since I would be arriving on Sunday morning and my meetings weren’t until Monday, I figured I could put some of the savings toward an extra hotel night which would help with my Hyatt status anyway.

Checking in for my Frontier flight

I arrived at the airport at about 12:15 AM for my 1:20 AM flight. I had never seen the Denver airport so quiet. Denver just doesn’t have that many redeye flights to begin with, and this one was particularly late, probably the last of the “night.”

I checked in for my flight on the Frontier app as I walked in. This late checkin was the crux of my strategy for getting a really good seat for free. I was assigned seat “0,” which I figured meant I was either piloting the plane, or didn’t actually have a seat at all. I needed to check my bag anyway so I planned to ask about it at the counter.

Frontier used to be Denver’s hometown airline, and they still have a huge presence. The check-in area is spacious with plenty of stations for agents to assist passengers.


Frontier ticket counter

There were only two agents working the counter when I arrived, but that seemed sufficient given the late hour.


Frontier ticket counter

There were also a slew of kiosks scattered around for those just needing to print a boarding pass.


Frontier ticket counter

Located just to the left of Frontier, Spirit is tiny by comparison, at least in Denver.


Frontier ticket counter

I stopped by a kiosk to reprint my boarding pass and take a final look at the seat map before checking my bag. They had a bag sizer there as well, but I was pretty sure my backpack would fit.


Frontier ticket counter

There were only a few people in front of me when I got in line.


Frontier ticket counter

The agent greeted me and confirmed I was going to Philadelphia. He was very friendly, perhaps surprisingly so for that god-awful hour of the night. He soon began typing on his keyboard, and then asked if I could lift 35 pounds before presenting me with a boarding pass for an aisle exit row seat. Score.

I was curious if the flight was oversold, and he confirmed it was — by two. And that he had just given me the last seat. <gulp>

From there I headed to the security.

Late night security at Denver International Airport

One of the best things about flying Frontier out of Denver is that you can use bridge security and walk to the gate, thus skipping the train. It’s also super convenient if you’re going to the American Admirals club.

But bridge security wasn’t open when I got there. In fact, of the three checkpoints, only the one at the opposite end of the terminal was available. So I made the long trek back through the deserted terminal.

I had never seen the Denver airport this quiet. I almost wished I brought my DSLR to take more pictures.


Denver International Airport

It was like the airport had gone to sleep for the night. And indeed, a few people were already sleeping in various nooks and crannies.


Denver International Airport

I think there were one or two fast food joints open, but that was about the only activity.


Denver International Airport

There was only one security lane open, and it was staffed by a single TSA agent. It wasn’t a TSA Pre-check lane, but he assured me that they would give me Pre-check treatment when I got up to the metal detector. And indeed they did. Overall, it was a very pleasant screening experience. It’s amazing how friendly the TSA can be when you catch them during low traffic times of the day.

I headed up to the Admirals Club, but by the time I arrived it was 12:40 AM and they had just closed 10 minutes prior. No midnight snack for me.

So I headed to the gate and had some good views of the Frontier gates along the way.


Denver International Airport

Boarding my Frontier flight

I arrived at the gate just as boarding was about to begin.


Frontier gate

I had been assigned to Group 2, possibly as a result of my exit row seat. I’m not sure about the qualifications for Group 1 boarding on Frontier, but there seemed to be a quite a large number of folks in that group. I’m always curious as to how the LCCs enforce their carry-on sizes, but for this flight I didn’t see anyone being hassled.

The inside of the plane was very clean and shiny.


Frontier plane

But the seats didn’t look very comfortable.


Frontier seats

They are a very slim line seat made out of molded plastic, so they don’t have a lot of give. Nor do they recline.


Frontier seats


Frontier seats

But at least I was in the exit row, so I had plenty of leg room.


Frontier exit row seat

The tray table at my exit row seat folded out to make a mostly full-sized tray table.


Frontier exit row tray table

But the other seats have what I would call a tray tablette — it‘s not useful for much more than a table or cup of water. On the other hand, if the seat pitch prevents you from opening a laptop anyway, perhaps a small tray table is a good thing since you don’t feel as claustrophobic.

I’m always curious as to who books flights that depart at 1:20 AM. A mother with two young boys had the row diagonally back from me, which both caused me to miss my kids and be glad that they weren’t along for this trip. Wrangling kids who are either asleep or wishing they were isn’t a lot of fun.


Frontier plane

At any rate, boarding on Frontier is amazingly efficient. They had the entire plane boarded by 1 AM, which was 20 minutes prior to departure. I guess charging more for carry-on bags really does make a difference. I was getting excited about an early arrival and the bed that was waiting for me at the Hyatt House in New Jersey.

But then things started to go south.

Delay, delay, delay

At 1:19 AM, one minute before our scheduled departure, the gate agent came on to say that we were going to be delayed because there was no pilot. And in the meantime, everyone would have to deplane.

He said they had put out a call for a pilot — perhaps on TaskRabbit? — and that they expected to have one such that we could push back at 2:30 AM. The gate agent suggested that we could leave our bags on the plane if we wanted, but that never seems like a good idea to me.

Overall, I was surprised at just how nonchalant people were about the delay given that it was the middle of the night. No one really said much of anything.

I found a nice place to stretch out back in the terminal. I wasn’t that tired so figured I’d catch up on a few emails.

But then I got the notice on my phone that our departure was pushed back to 4:30 AM, which the gate agent soon confirmed. He also said that it was caused by the pilot calling in sick. And that they were still trying to get a pilot, though they weren’t sure they’d actually be successful given that it was the middle of the night. This caused a few groans, but no revolt.

By now, most of the passengers had long since made themselves comfortable.


Denver International Airport

At least there was plenty of space to stretch out. And since it was a red-eye flight, I had my neck pillow with me.


Denver International Airport

I doubted I would really sleep, but getting horizontal and closing my eyes was at least a start. Then around 4 AM the gate agent announced they had received confirmation that their prayers calls for a pilot had been answered, and we would now be departing at 6:30 AM.

The monitors soon updated to reflect this.


Frontier gate

I’m not a fan of 6 AM flights, but I guess they are better than 1:20 AM flights, right? 😉

We were then given $10 meal vouchers which were freshly printed at the gate. Since they had the name of each passenger printed on them, it took a bit for the agent to distribute them.


Frontier voucher

I decided to use my voucher to buy a few chicken sandwiches for the plane, and instead headed up to the Admirals Club for breakfast, which had just reopened for the day.

Re-boarding and take off

When I got back to the gate around 6 AM, it was about time to re-board the plane. The agent was advising that we would get compensation in the form of a voucher for the delay.

There was a new crew of flight attendants on the plane, and they were well aware of the situation and were quite sympathetic. The replacement pilot said a few nice things as well. That sort of impressed me, as I hate it when you get on a plane in situations like this and the flight attendants pretend nothing happened.

The flight itself was rather uneventful. Or at least I don’t remember much because I dozed for most of the flight. Then again, without entertainment or wifi, that’s about all there is to do on a Frontier flight anyway.

I do recall the flight attendants pushing the cart and peddling their wares. I would have taken a picture of the menu, but there was none. I don’t have a degree in marketing, but it seems easier to sell stuff if people know what’s available.

We finally landed in Philadelphia just shy of noon, a delay of about five hours.

I then made the long walk to baggage claim where it seemed to take forever for my bag to come out. I wish I had timed it, as it seemed like at least 30 minutes since we arrived at the gate.

Bottom line

My flight on Frontier was about what I expected. I’m not a fan of their seats — and think they are much less comfortable than Spirit — but at least I was in an exit row. The ground crew and flight attendants were also friendly enough.

I’m not sure what to think about the delay — of course it could happen on any airline, but network carriers could probably reroute you either on their own flights or interline you to other airlines.

Then again, there wouldn’t have been any other options at 1:20 AM anyway, so even if I had been flying United, I’d most likely have been spending the night at the airport. I guess it would have been nice if they could have notified us about the delay earlier — had I known about the delay before I left for the airport, I would have been thrilled to get a few hours of sleep in a real bed. But perhaps the pilot called in sick at the last minute?

Either way, the gate agent was reasonably communicative in terms of keeping us informed as to the status of the flight. And I definitely appreciated the proactive food voucher.

Would I fly Frontier again? Yes, but only if the price was substantially cheaper than United.

What do you think of Frontier?

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Comments

  1. Haha What do I think of Frontier? Your description is totally spot on.
    I flew them 5 years ago and had the exact experience and haven’t gone near them since. A joke of an airline. Only Trumpsters fly them I hope.

  2. So I’m not sure if I should book the Orlando New Orleans trip with them – but then they are the only one with a direct flight (together with Spirt) and its just a 2 hour flight.

    Do you not get Group 1 if you book a carry on piece?

  3. “Frontier used to be Denver’s hometown airline, and they still have a huge presence.” Aren’t they still based in DEN?

  4. Awesome photos! Scrolling quickly through the article one might also possibly conclude this was week one of The Walking Dead, except no blood.

  5. So what compensation did you get in the end for the delay ? A $10 food voucher is a disgrace in an airport, that hardly gets you anything, let alone food and a drink.

    Either way..Nice report on it and sorry for your long delay.

  6. @Jason: Thanks! Just checked them and they are 120 $ more but is it true that they don’t charge for the check in bag and carry on?

  7. @Tina – southwest does not charge for your checked luggage or your carry on luggage. so factor that in. They also, on average, run a more reliable operation.

  8. DCA — A few years ago, pretty much every Frontier flight either originated or terminated in Denver, their hub. But nowadays they are like Spirit, where they’ll just start up point-to-point routes wherever they think they can make a buck. So I guess that’s what I mean by they “used to be Denver’s hometown airline.” But of course, they still have HQ in Denver.

  9. Sounds par for the course. I don’t fly Frontier that often for this very reason. A majority of the flights I’ve ever taken with them have been significantly delayed. I’ve missed several connections due to these delays. I only consider them now when they’re selling a nonstop flight to my final destination at a significantly cheaper price than anyone else.

  10. I live in Denver and will try to avoid Frontier the same as you. Sometimes though it is a few hundred dollars different and then I will. But only if I feel the weather is going to be reasonably predictable. When a Frontier flight is cancelled it can be a week before you get back to home around the holidays. The flights are at off hours which do not usually work for my schedule. The planes used to be nice, but now bare bones paper thin seats. All Airbuses and I prefer Boeing. It costs more to take a carry on than to check and neither are free.

  11. Isbluffs. It was actually about $11 total. I always make sure I get maximum value out of the vouchers, so don’t mind paying a bit on my own.

  12. Thanks for giving away the Bridge secret — I loved that thing before CLEAR/PreCheck made lines irrelevant. And I’ve always found Denver’s TSA people to be friendlier than many other airports.

    Out of curiosity, if you have to sleep in an airport, where do you choose to sleep?

  13. I flew Frontier in their previous iteration in 2008. From Denver to Milwaukee. The flight was comfortable, every flight had a TV in the back, etc. That seems a lot better than this.

  14. I love your polite tone. Most other bloggers would be screaming bloody murder after a delay like that.

  15. How did they board the plane with a pilot? I thought you can’t board passengers until both pilots are there.

  16. FWIW – I was delayed by three hours under the exact same scenario as you described above except it was on the Qantas A380 from Melbourne to Los Angeles. The pilot called in a sickie and the whole A380 were given a $10 voucher.

  17. Ok my first flight with frontier. Everything went well. The flight were ok. The only thing I had a problem with were the seat were not comfortable at all but I guess you cannot have everything. Yes I would fly frontier again but only short distance. This were about a 900 miles flight. However you cannot beat the airfare. The only other things I ask is why we military retired cannot check ours bags free. I had to to pay good amount for ways. Why

  18. I fly Trenton NJ (suburb of Philadelphia) to Detroit about 6 times a year for work.

    My last ticket cost was $19, plus $60 each way for seat selection and carry-on.

    Parking is like $5 a day, and TTN is closer to my house than PHL.

    Flight time is about 2 hours, many times the seating is nearly full.

    I can not drive to my work site in Toledo from the PA suburbs for that price.

  19. Actually, I’m DEN based and happen to love F9, avoiding UA like the plague.

    Truth is, I don’t fly internationally much anymore, so global reach and partners aren’t that important to me anymore. And domestically, UA have always been my least favorite legacy, with a long history of canceling and delaying flights along with almost universally rude staff.

    I don’t like Spirit, mostly because they’re never enough cheaper on the routes I fly to make putting up with their idiosyncrasies worthwhile.

    Frontier, on the other hand, offer a perfectly adequate product at what’s usually a very attractive price. From DEN there are a lot of nonstop destinations as well, which helps with reliability too.

    And if I’m even considering taking a bag, their “Works” package is often a great deal, netting you a carry-on, a checked bag, an extended legroom seat, and the ability to cancel your flight and get a refund. I’ve found that many times their base fare plus the works is still cheaper than UA (or other legacies) or even WN for what’s usually a better experience.

    All of that said, their loyalty program stinks and, as you experienced, they’re not terribly resilient when things go wrong, but the only legacy that’s consistently better in terms of operations is DL and their network is very weak out of DEN.

  20. Sort of mimics the experience I had with JetBlue. New York was having really horrible weather that day, caused the JFK-IAD flight to be delayed, thus delaying IAD-BOS, then delaying MY flight from BOS-BUF. My 8:55PM flight was first pushed to 10:15PM, then 11:15PM, then 12:00AM. We ended up departing at 12:40 ish, and the flight itself was otherwise perfect. New plane, legroom was great, and the flight attendant was outstanding. She’d been called in to operate the flight as the last leg where the BUF-BOS plane she’d just arrived on would’ve been her last of the day, and yet her service felt so genuine and sincere, it was better service than what I usually get out of most Singapore Airlines crews.

  21. Great read. Just a note on flight attendants: we don’t always know about such situations. If I’m on call, then all I get is a call or text. Just had this happen in Newark and the only reason I found out pax had to stay overnight is because one of them mentioned it. In which case we Included an apology in our PAs.

  22. I burned my 200,000 Elite tier miles and am glad I did because Frontier was fading from a real airline to what it is now. The model is for the once a year family vacationing on the cheap. I don’t know of any people who still are in their frequent flyer program.

  23. I flew Frontier once out of necessity, and will never do it again. My scheduled 6:30PM MDW-TTN flight was delayed another hour every hour. They blamed it on the weather, but it was obviously because of poor scheduling and crew timing. Finally, at 12am a plane arrived from the Carribean which was meant to take us to Trenton. However, Midway CBP had closed at that hour, and the plane had to then fly from Midway to Ohare and back to have customers processed by immigration. The plane returned at 2:30am, and upon lining up for boarding (8 hours delayed for a 1.5 hour flight), it was announced that the crew had timed out and the flight was cancelled. To add further frustration, this was on a Sunday, and the next flight would not be until Wednesday. I was able to snag the last seat on the 9am flight that morning to Wilmington DE (by calling rather than waiting in line to be rebooked), which was actually the 8pm Wilmington flight delayed from the night before. After all this, my “compensation” was received months later by e-mail … a $20 voucher to use on a future Frontier flight. Thanks but no thanks!

  24. I cant help but laugh not to cry and feel sorry for those people sleeping on the ground and as you described it, not even seeming to care that much or complain about it. Makes me sad in a way hahah. I wouldve been pissed. Once I was flying LAX-IAD in First and there was a significant 5 hour delay. They put me up in a hotel and I slept for like 4 hours, it was incredible.

    Love your reviews Travis, you should write more!

  25. ^^^

    I still don’t see how Frontier *isn’t* Denver’s “hometown airline” by any definition. They have reduced their offerings from their height in the late 2000s, sure, but Denver is still Frontier’s headquarters and largest base of operations despite doing a lot of point to point elsewhere. The most recent Frontier schedule changes for next spring add a lot of new destinations from Denver too. If you have any doubt, look at how the entire airline melted down after a snowstorm in Denver last winter, while the other airlines (particularly United) were able to recover much better.

  26. I’ve flown Frontier on shorter flights and I say the savings are worth the price of a less creature comforts. As for delays, of my 5 most recent trips there was a 40 minute weather delay. Crews were always friendly.

    I pay the $30 bag fee to get zone 1.

  27. I booked Frontier roundtrip from ATL to Bozeman since it was hundreds cheaper. About three weeks before the trip I got an email saying that they had moved back the ATL–DEN departure time for the whole schedule, and that it was actually no longer possible to fly from ATL to BZN in one day on Frontier. All they could do was refund me the cost of that one segment, and fortunately I found a Southwest flight that would get to DEN before the BZN flight for about the cost of the refunded segment. Everyone at Frontier was super nice, but I couldn’t help but think that with either Southwest or a legacy the larger route network would have made a difference when something goes wrong.

  28. Great review! I’ve only flown Frontier one time from MIA to ATL and the flight was uneventful and on time. I have to admit that it wasn’t a redeye so that could have contributed to the pleasant experience.
    Like you, I try to stick to the known but writing a travel blog has opened doors to other airlines, routes and experiences. However, I’m still a loyal AA EP for convenience and comfort.

  29. About 7 years ago I used to fly Frontier a lot as my father in law lived in Denver and they had a favorable schedule to St Louis where my parents live. But then the cuts started, first the cookie, then the free drink for those in stretch seating then more and more cuts. Then the transition period of paying for using the overhead bin was creating delays as people argued that they could shove their huge bags under the seat. After I cashed out all my points I stopped flying them. Reading this, it looks like it has gotten worse.

  30. I really appreciated this review of Frontier. I was looking at their prices a week ago and wondered why they were so much cheaper than United. We have flown at least a couple of times a year (SO want to increase that number!!) but only ever on United. Not surprised about the seats for that price. But for several hundred dollars less in some cases, we may risk it next time, as Denver is often our desired destination (LOVE the Rocky mountains!!). Was amused at your description of the Denver airport at night – we have experienced that on a red eye flight as well.

  31. Frontier just started 3x weekly flights from my hometown RNO airport. They last flew to RNO 10 years ago.

    I welcome this as it’s another cheap option to get to a hub. Allegiant has 2-3x weekly to LAS and LAX, though haven’t flown them because they’ve never had a flight when I’ve needed it but eventually I’ll fly both Allegiant and Frontier.

    Southwest has been my go-to airline to get to a hub from RNO.

  32. Similar kind of delay happened on my last Silkair flight. A crew member called in sick and we had to wait until 1:30PM for a flight crew member to fly in from Kuala Lumpur. We were flying COK-SIN. SQ have us a free night at the crowne plaza because we missed our connection to San Francisco.

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