The Queen and I flew to Texas on Frontier Airlines. Never heard of it? Neither had I, and I found this vaguely disconcerting. I don’t like flying under any circumstances, and I wasn’t exactly psyched to be on an airline less well-known than your average brand of salad dressing. But I ordered our tickets on one of them Internet Ticket WWW sites, and my insistence that we receive the lowest possible fare resulted in Frontier.
Frontier, it turns out, is one of those bargain basement outfits like “Southwest.” We figured this out even before we got to the gate. Standing in line to hand over our luggage, we saw that three different airlines inhabited this section of check-in counter. On the wall behind them, Delta had a fancy, digital readerboard that displayed up-to-the minute information about the arrival and departure times of its jets; Horizon’s had a plastic-and-magnets affair that clerks had to manually change to show ETAs and ETDs; Frontier had a four dollar Wal*mart whiteboard and a couple of dry-erase markers.
Frontier’s slogan is “A Different Animal,” another element of the airline that was apparently designed to make me feel ill at ease. When it comes to, say, video games or fruit juices, I find the prospect of something completely new intriguing. But when it comes to large, heavy machines improbably traveling through the ether, I’m not really in the market for an innovation. If the architecture of regular airplanes is modeled on birds, what “different animal” am I to assume Frontier is emulating? Bats? Bees? Golden — god forbid — Retrievers?
It turns out that the “Different Animal” tagline is just part of a marketing strategy targeting the lucrative “six year-old girl” demographic. Each Frontier jet, we discovered when we arrived at the gate, has a picture of some Lil’ Baby Critter on its tail wing, each looking like it had been ripped from the pages of the “Adworable Widdle Animals 2004 Wall Calendar.” The Queen and I jokingly wondered if you could special-request a particular mammal, like asking for an aisle seat. “My wife is pregnant,” you’d say to the check-in clerk, “so it’s imperative we receive an ocelot.”
“We have some great news!” someone gushed over the PA system at our gate, moments before we were to board. “We are very please to announce that we will be featuring DirectTV on this flight!” (They said this like MacGyver had just been on board, rigging up the system with paperclips and gumballs, but I’ve since discovered that Frontier always has DirectTV on their flights.) Basically all this meant that every seat had a small television set embedded in its back to ensure that, even on a cross-continental flight, no one will have to forego the sweat, sweet nectar of televised soma for even a moment.
But the TV cost money, as with everything on Frontier. They didn’t even have meals on the flights — you had to buy your own $9 ham sandwich at the airport commissary and bring it on board with you. During the preflight instructions I expected the stewardess to say that, in the event of a sudden depressurization of the cabin, an air mask would drop from the overhead compartment, and all you would need to do is swipe a major credit card through the reader in your armrest to purchase 3 minutes of oxygen for only $10.
Some folks, including the man sitting next to me, ponied up the $5 for the DirectTV headsets. The Queen was mesmerized by the guy two rows ahead of us on the opposite side of the aisle; she kept elbowing me and saying, in a tone of sheer wonderment, “That guy’s been watching Animal Planet the entire trip! He paid five bucks to watch Animal Planet!”
About halfway through the flight I glanced at the TV belonging to the man to my left. On screen were two sock puppets, conversing. The man, sensing my gaze, frantically jabbed at the channel changer until he found a basketball game.