Frontier Airlines kind of sucks, with one big exception

Ryan Young

If, like me, you’re one of the 10 percent of out-of-state students at UT, you probably fly on a regular basis to go home for breaks. Even if you’re from Texas, you probably fly occasionally for conferences, vacations, job interviews and internships.

Longhorns, this is your captain speaking: budget flying may be a painful experience, but there is an incoming boon for bargain hunters.  “Ultra-low cost” Frontier Airlines is doubling down on its service to Austin, increasing the number of destinations it serves from 16 to 30. 

Airlines like Frontier prey on cost-conscious flyers — for example, college students — looking for cheap flights. They offer bargain basement fares — Frontier flights between Austin and Cleveland will start as low as $39 one-way — with one very big catch. Their tickets entitle you to a seat on the plane — and absolutely nothing else.

Drinks, snacks or meals? Complimentary on most airlines, but not on Frontier. Decide whether to pay extra for them or go hungry for the rest of your flight. Carry-on bags? Also an extra charge, unless you can squeeze your backpack full of textbooks into the tiny space underneath your seat. If you didn’t plan ahead, that overhead bin space will cost $60, thank you very much.

Finally, squeeze into your no-budget seat, which on Frontier is the smallest and has the least legroom in the industry. (By the way, these seats don’t recline.) To sum up, flying Frontier is truly a miserable experience, as the airline’s one-star-and-a-half Yelp score and second-to-last customer satisfaction ranking attest.

And yet, the strategy works. The airline with the highest profit margins in the business is Allegiant Air, which uses the same ultra-low cost business model as Frontier. All complaining aside, it’s your choice to fly a no-frills airline; of all air travelers, college students benefit the most from their expansion. We jet around the country with few bags in tow, and many of us would probably go to extreme lengths to trade comfort for savings.

Ultimately, Frontier Airlines’ expansion is good for Austin because it means more options for all consumers. Now, you can buy that $39 ticket to Cleveland and squeeze into your non-reclining seat — or simply fly another airline, like you were always able to before. Everyone benefits, because when ultra low-cost airlines start new routes, fares tend to go down overall.

Don’t fear the low-cost carrier. Embrace it; ask yourself how far you’re willing to go to save $50 on your next flight. You don’t have to like Frontier Airlines, but you can certainly appreciate the airline’s ambitious plan to fly more Austinites for less.

Young is a computer science senior from Bakersfield, California. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @ryanayng.