Texas Trip: The Final Frontier

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.

* * *

39 comments.

  1. If the sock puppets were Sifl & Olly, the cost was well worth it.

    I got laser eyes!

    http://www.sifl-n-olly.com/

  2. Frontier is HQed here in Denver, and so is our Last, Best Hope for Fares to Keep United from Avoiding Bankruptcy Completely on the Backs of Denver Fliers. Or something like that.

  3. I flew Frontier once and vowed never to do so again. The most disconcerting thing for me was that all the Exit signs and signs in the bathroom were in Arabic (this was in 1999). But it didn’t help that they changed our gate for the connecting flight to Atlanta, but the sign overhead as we were boarding still read “Boston.”

  4. Was the fact that it was Arabic what bothered you, or just the fact that it was in a language other than English? Either sentiment is immature, but the former is just plain wrong.

  5. Being anti-arab is just plain wrong, but xenophobia is OK?

  6. It’s just bad business practice for a company to sell seats on a flight that stays within the boundries of a country where more than 80% of the people use language A at home but keep the exit signage on the plane written in lanugage B. A company that doesn’t get the obvious details right, like presenting themselves legibly to the customers, usually doesn’t get the important details right either.

  7. It’s a cheap ticket, quit your bitching.

  8. It was that they were obviously used planes, and I hadn’t heard that Arabs manufacture particularly good planes (I could be wrong, of course). I’d really rather fly on a plane that was manufactured by a company I’ve heard of and was preferably not previously owned by another airline. I’d have felt equally ill at ease if the signs were in Russian or Norwegian or whatever–it just seemed to say to me “we can’t afford to buy planes manufactured in our own country.”

  9. You know what would take that arabic writing off of there?

    Either a strong chemical solvent such as Xylene or Methyl Carbitol or some kind of razor-scraping tool.

    Bingo, problem solved!

  10. Every flight: bread, cheese and grapes. Every flight from now on. It’s easier to make a trip to the grocery store the night before than eat the gack they try to sell you at the plane.
    And other passengers will look at your food with envy.
    Drawback: cutting and spreading said cheese with a plastic spoon. You can’t even get a plastic knife on flights anymore.

  11. I flew JetsGo to Cuba a few weeks ago… they were used planes as well (though all documentation was in English), and it was cheap and cramped (especially for me at 6’2) and the food sucked and all that good stuff, but the flight attendants were GORGEOUS. None of the cranky, middle aged women that you see on other airlines, these were foxy young 20-somethings sashaying up and down the aisle. So at least they got ONE detail right.

  12. If there were sock puppet football, perhaps I would watch football.

  13. I fly all the time and I don’t mind Frontier. There’s way more leg-room than United (although that’s really not saying much), the flight attendants are accomodating, and it’s one of the best deals around. I prefer perks being optional than being gouged for them whether I want them or not.

    p.s. It’s always wise to bring your own food when you travel. Trust me, you’re not missing anything when they don’t serve you a meal. Airline food for economy passengers blows.

  14. I am just happy that the Different Animal wasn’t a penguin, emu, or some other type of flightless bird.

    And, for that matter, I think I’d turn around if my plane had a lemming proudly emblazed on the tail fin

  15. Animal Planet was worth every cent, wiseass.

  16. I thought of a nice reassurance to help myself stay calm about flying. I ask myself: 1)how many hundreds of thousands of planes have I seen flying overhead my whole life, not to mention the ones I totally ignored? 2)how many plane crashes have I seen in person? (none). This always helps me a bit.

  17. All this talk of small carriers and not one mention of Hooters Air…

  18. If it *was* Sifl and Olly, I’m flying to Texas!

  19. Is it worse if the animals on the tail of your airplane talk?

    http://www.frontierairlines.com/about/commercials.asp

  20. It’s like flying Greyhound!

  21. full moon? unusual to see posters snapping at one another this way.

    i don’t care what language (other than english) the exit sign is written in, i agree if 99.5% of the passengers don’t understand it, then houston we have a problem. if the bathroom signs are in another language, my next thought would be “umm, is the mechanics manual in english?” yipes.

    matthew, you consistently make me laugh. thanks

  22. I have heard that used airplanes are deemed to be safer because they have proven themselves to be. Don’t know if it’s an urban legend or not but I think I’d rather fly a used plane that one that still has labels on the windshield.
    BTW thanks for the ‘friend to Canada’ tagline. I thought you might still be pissed.

  23. isn’t the market for airliners extremely limited? name someone else besides boeing or airbus who makes commercial airplanes. i’d bet you good money that plane was made by one of the two.

    the fact that it was used and they were too cheap to get new signs, however, is a differnt story.

  24. I wonder if Canadian planes have signs in English, in French, or in both? Hmmm…

  25. Hey–is there something wrong with Animal Planet? What about sock puppets?!? It’s better than sit coms. (I think–while realizing that I don’t actually know what animal planet really is about. Animals, I assume? Animals are so interesting–well worth $5.)

    I used to think that they give us food to distract you and keep us from rioting but now that they can give you TV they don’t need the food I suppose.

    (I have trouble planning in advance and forget to buy the hideous ham sandwich. Thanks for reminding me because I’m going to fly America West–another ‘discount’ airline with the same price tickets as other airlines but just really bad service.)

  26. Our planes have signs in English and French. The whole saftey drill is bilingual too. But thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the signs used to indicate freshly washed and slippery floors at Canadian airports are in English and Spanish.

  27. Tom – McDonnell Douglas also makes planes, I flew in an MD-83 (I believe it was) like 2 weeks ago. :)

    I wouldn’t necessarily agree that used planes are more reliable… a used plane has seen more stresses. If it’s only been mildly used, fine, but if it’s 40 years old I’d like something a bit newer, if possible :)

  28. what ever happened to kukla, fran, and ollie???

    it seems that the last commuter propjet I was on was made in ?south america?

  29. This whole thread reminds me of the first time flying a puddlejumper, YEARS ago.

    I booked a one-way flight from Maine to NYC on Bar Harbor Airlines, and really never gave any thought to how I would be flying. Automatically my mind filled in the blank “Great Big Plane, Lousy Food” without any real conscious thought.

    Clue one was when they wanted to weigh my luggage AND MYSELF together on the same scale. I thought they were joking, laughed “Good one!” and stared dumbly for a couple of seconds before wittily following with “Wha-huh-hmm? Really?”

    Then the plane that I THOUGHT was mine taxied away to reveal a little eight or ten-seater behind it… The pilot placed my luggage INSIDE THE WING, and made a big deal of making sure everything balanced evenly (should never have grabbed that hunk of driftwood…).

    Best part was the view, sitting directly behind the copilot as if it was the backseat of a car. The pilot turned around before taxiing (sp?) and gave us the pre-flight speech, followed by the ubiquitous “…and thank you for flying Bar Harbor Airlines!”

    I couldn’t help it, I felt compelled to say “Your welcome.”

    A few years later flying another puddlejumper, I found out that what I THOUGHT was turbulence all this time was really nothing at all… THIS FOLKS, BY GOD, is TURBULENCE!!! The plane bucked, dipped, shake-rattle-and-rolled and plummeted like it was Charlie Brown’s Kite headed for The Tree. Swear to god, during one plummet I heard someone screaming aloud before realizing the voice was coming from my own pathetic throat. Oops.

  30. McDonnell Douglas also makes planes

    Well, except the company is now called “Boeing” and has been since 1997.

  31. I flew JetsGo to Cuba a few weeks ago

    Also not a reassuring name. Most airlines do not feel the need to convince you that, yes indeed, their Jets do Go.

  32. Well I guess that shows how old my plane was, as McDonnell Douglas was plastered all over it :)

  33. Last flight I took, I neglected to pay attention to the attendants while they were pointing out the crucial safety features of the aircraft. So I stole the illustrated fold-out card from the seat pocket and took it home to study without distractions. It turns out that a properly inflated lifevest will be surrounded by jiggly little motion lines. And all survivors of air incidents will have fine heads of thick bushy hair.

  34. Ya know that whole “seat cushion as flotation device” spiel? Well, I sincerely doubt that it’l keep you afloat in the roiling waves of open ocean, but at least you’ll have something comforting to crush to your chest as you try not to swallow mouthfuls of seawater. Bonus!!!

  35. For your own amusement, reflect on the times you’ve read or heard about an airplane successfully ditching in a body of water.

    That didn’t take long, now, did it.

  36. Frontier was once a very well-known regional carrier, mainly in the Midwest. I think it started up in the 50s and lasted into the 80s, then folded. Obviously whoever started up this new low-cost carrier thought the name was worth something.

    There are companies that buy used aircraft from domestic and foreign carriers and lease them out to startup airlines – that’s where those Arabic placards came from. If I were running today’s Frontier, I would have at least changed out the placards before putting the aircraft into service, but budgetary constraints probably made that impossible – 737s don’t turn a profit unless they’re flying with full seats.

    It’s a cutthroat business these days. Definitely bring your own food next time you fly! Too bad you can’t bring your own hiproom and legroom.

    Regards,
    Paul Woodford

  37. You guys hear about United’s new airliner? The “low fair” brethren to it’s beheamoth, overbloated, overcharging, over-extending service?

    “Ted”

    Does this mean, if things go meekly for this aircarrier, that a newspaper could lay blame on United executives and say, in all stern-ness, “You killed Ted, you midevil dickweeds?”

    Just food for thought.

  38. Depending on how far you fly, airlines are not allowed to serve you meals. After Sept. 11 the minimum distance for serving you food was increased. In other words, even on united you wouldn’t get a meal.
    ps. I’ve flown frontier a few times and never had a problem. I tend to go for carriers like southwest and frontier because they’re cheap and safe.

  39. I work for Frontier Airlines, and we don’t have signs that are in Arabic. And more than half of our planes are brand new Airbus’. The largest airplane manufacturer besides Boeing. And I think it’s a good idea to charge five dollars to watch TV. If your ticket is five bucks cheaper. Then you don’t have to pay even if you don’t watch. And fuzzy animals are cute, nuff said.