Frontier Airlines is Awful, Scapegoats CEO, Doesn’t Actually Replace Him

Dave Siegel is out as CEO of Frontier Airlines, Frontier says it’s because of their poor operational performance and customer service issues but it probably isn’t really. He wasn’t ‘the guy’ of Frontier’s new ownership, and he hung around about 18 months. He also probably wasn’t the right fit for Frontier anyway (and doesn’t exactly have a strong track record running airlines to begin with).

Bill Franke was Chairman and CEO of America West before Doug Parker took over just prior to 9/11. His Indigo Partners bought Spirit in 2006 and turned it into the low cost carrier that it is today as its board chairman. They bought Frontier in the fall of 2013 and he sold his stake in Spirit.

Interestingly, Dave Siegel, who had been Chairman of Avis and then President of US Airways before Doug Parker’s America West took it over, was CEO of Frontier and stayed on after the Indigo Partners acquisition.

Barry Biffle was Managing Director of Marketing at US Airways back in 2004 under Ben Baldanza, who became CEO of Spirit and made him Vice President of Marketing. He left Spirit to become CEO of VivaColombia (for about 10 months) before becoming President of Frontier under David Siegel as CEO (Siegel had been CEO of US Airways when Biffle was there). (I met Biffle years ago at a hotel bar near US Airways headquarters in Crystal City after he, Baldanza, and John Reistrup particiapted in a chat on Flyertalk.)

Frontier, and Biffle, aren’t mincing words about Siegel’s departure — he’s the fall guy for poor customer service and operational performance.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Frontier “declined to elaborate on why Mr. Siegel resigned.”

The Denver Post, though, characterizes it differently,

Frontier president Barry Biffle would not elaborate on Siegel’s departure other than to say that the leadership restructuring is designed to fix myriad operational issues that have dogged the airline as it transitions into an ultra-low-cost carrier.

“This is about completing our strategy. We believe we’ve got the costs on the right track; we believe we’ve got the network on the right track,” he said. “We’ve just got to finish the last part of our promise of ‘Low fares done right,’ which is to run a reliable airline.”

So Siegel is the reason for Frontier’s abysmal operational performance. And the change – which has Franke and Biffle jointly replacing Siegel as ‘office of CEO’ – is about fixing that.

Biffle says the operational problems aren’t related to their low cost carrier strategy — that customer complaints were driven by their call center transition (“we did not answer the phone”) and operationally they were already awful before becoming a low cost carrier.

The truth is they were working to become a low cost carrier even before the ex-Spirit team took over. Although they’ve taken it much further in the intervening time, including gutting their elite program including eliminating free checked bags, advance seat assignments for extra legroom seating, complimentary beverages, and bonus miles for top frequent flyers.

Frontier offers very cheap flights and very little besides (eventual) transportation. That’s what they’re after, and consumers used to a more upscale product take time to transition. It didn’t help that Frontier moved to a less expensive and less functional reservation system earlier this year — airlines do not generally benefit (be it US Airways with their America West merger or United with the Continental merger) from moving to a less costly but less functional passenger service system. It’s not just the hub of the operation, but the cash register as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Any airline that awards “miles” that expire in less than a year—is evil. It’s that simple.

  2. We’ll see what happens. Everything about Frontier seems to disappoint. I really thought they might be able to carve a niche as the low-fare airline that didn’t suck (a USA Easyjet, if you like), but then they just copied Spirit’s model. And didn’t do a very good job with it.

  3. Flew from St. Augustine, FL to Washington-Dulles for $40 round trip for New Year’s Eve celebration, it was great for a short flight.

  4. #1 problem with both Spirit and Frontier is the number of fights cancelled if they’re not full. Complete deal-killer. As if all the hidden gotcha fees weren’t bad enough.

  5. I flew Frontier Airlines & thought that their product was similar to coach of any domestic carrier for someone without any status. True you have to pay for a carry on bag & drinks but if you know that going in & add those fees to your overall ticket price, it can still be a good deal. The mileage program sucks but for the casual traveler I think that it is fine & you can always cash out to another airline’s program through points.com

    Check out my Frontier Airlines flight review:
    http://moneyleftfortravel.com/frontier-airlines-flight-review/

  6. Their unreliability during irregular ops and their proclivity to cancel flights for revenue reasons makes them a non-starter.

    I’ve always said brands like easyJet and Air Asia “get” the whole LLC thing in a way that Spirit and Ryanair don’t…they wrap the discomfort of flying cheap in a blanket of funny and cute, whereas the latter wrap their product in a bag of “shut the f*** up, it’s cheap”.

  7. The race to the bottom began when frontier was purchased by Republic Airways. CEO Bryan Bedford’s “management” team managed to run both frontier and Midwest into the ground simultaneously. . This maneuver was facilitated by the cash infusion of the scumbags at TPG Capitol.
    Bedford was completely out of his element and after bleeding cash for 3 years he was replaced by Seigel, whose business acumen is only slightly better than his airline management ability – both of which are something out of Frank Lorenzo’s playbook.

    Frontier is a shell of its former self. And as always, the employees are the ones who pay the ultimate price.

  8. I was schedule to take a 5:30 am flight from Philadelphia to Orlando on July 4th 2015. I arrived at the counter at 4.58 am and was promptly told that I could not be on the flight as my bag didn’t have time to make it to the plane. It was against TSA rules for a bag to be on a plane without the passenger. The approximately 20 people who arrived just after me were told the same thing. Everyone was charged $75 for the next flight. So we all sat in PHI airport terminal waiting for the same plane to return 6 1/2 hrs later. A funny thing happened when we got to Orlando. Are bags were not there.So there ended up being quite a yelling match with your ground agents. Then one agent opened a closet door. There were our bags. They were on the original flight at 5:30 am. I tried customer service but they are trained well in denial. You decide Stay away.

  9. I have been flying with frontier for years and actually have found the experience to be pleasurable. I have never had a problem with frontier until now where for some unknown and what I would call a bad business choice, they decided to stop flying the Fort Lauderdale to Denver route. This is basically a showstopper for me in your lighting front tier going forward. I tried the Miami to Denver route, and that was a very bad experience. I hate that airport down there and will never use them again. Unfortunately I’ve had to move on to another carrier. I sincerely hope that front tier will once again fly the Fort Lauderdale to Denver route. Or at least consider West Palm Beach to Denver.

  10. Their website does not remotely function. Now……., how can any carrier remotely operate when quite possibly THE single most important operational element – aside from perfectly well maintained aircraft and competent flight staff – is fully inoperable? I know, that’s a rhetorical question.

    This marks the second and last time I ever consider using Frontier and when I buy tickets its for three, round trip and we travel three to five times per year……………

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