HomeTravelWhat it’s like to fly on America’s version of Ryanair

What it’s like to fly on America’s version of Ryanair

“Captain, can you do something? We’ve got connecting flights.”

So said a stressed and frustrated passenger (not me) about 45 minutes into the wait at the gate at Orlando airport.

Unlike the usual scenario, in which your plane stays put on the stand, for often unclear reasons, well beyond its departure time, Frontier flight 1039 on Monday from Buffalo to Orlando was at the end of its journey: at gate 15 at the central Florida airport.

The Airbus A320 had actually touched down 10 minutes early. Then a well-known law kicked in. First, a tardy outbound plane was blocking the aircraft stand, consuming the minutes we had all gained. Next, when ours drew up at the gate, no one was available to attach an air bridge to it.

You might expect a temporary airport-staff shortage on a busy Friday or Sunday evening, but not on a Monday afternoon. My first flight on the ultra-low-cost airline, sometimes described as “America’s Ryanair”, was not ending well.

The start of my relationship with Frontier had proved vexing, too: it involved a booking process even more tiresome than the Irish budget airline on which the Denver-based carrier seems to model itself.

I had no interest in taking a large piece of baggage that would cost more than my ticket, reserving “stretch seating” (the first three rows of seats have extra padding and legroom), buying insurance, renting a car or booking a hotel room. But such ancillaries make the difference between profit and loss. As far as budget airlines are concerned, the basic fare simply marks the start of negotiations.

A day ahead, Frontier invited me to check in online. Once again, I had to navigate a barrage of invective about the likely disappointment were I foolishly to decline the tempting range of offers.

When I turned up at Buffalo airport, though, I was not treated as the cheapskate I undoubtedly am. The Frontier service was friendly and professional, getting everyone boarded punctually for an on-time departure. And as for the mask policy: while fully vaccinated people in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area of New York State are not required to wear face coverings, on Frontier Airlines masks are seriously mandatory.

Passengers are obliged to agree to the following: “If I am eating or drinking, I will wear my mask between bites and sips.”

The bemasked flight passed swiftly, enlivened by the US equivalent of selling lottery scratchcards. This was a Frontier card promotion that had echoes of a timeshare hard sell, with a cabin crew member insisting that the only way to lock in all the benefits was to buy today.

On arrival in Orlando, I was in prime position to watch the slow-motion drama play out at the gate. No one was happy to lose the best part of an hour in a cabin so warm that the captain requested all the window blinds be closed in order to exclude the sunshine that gives Florida its state nickname. When finally the door swung open, I hurried away with no plans to fly on Frontier again.

Within half an hour, that opinion had changed completely.

“Hello Simon,” read the email. “We’re hopeful that you will give us another try, so we are providing you with a voucher for $50 [£36] to be used towards a Frontier flight.”

For someone living in the UK, the terms and conditions are not over-generous: the voucher must be redeemed within three months. Yet for those of us without immediate connections, the delay I experienced was only mildly exasperating. And an airline that is prepared offer passengers what amounts to a free flight deserves respect – and a second chance.

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