Working The System

February 2, 2010

in Airport Stories

In August of 2008, my daughter, wife and I flew from St. Louis to Jackson Hole, WY with Frontier Airlines. We connected through Denver. We planned somewhat poorly, with our last day in Yellowstone being our daughter’s last day of summer vacation. But we did have a great trip… at least until our attempt to return home.

Being conscientious fliers, we arrive for our return flight from Jackson Hole two hours early. We stood in a small line at the Frontier counter, where it was immediately clear our return home would be “eventful.” All of the other passengers at the counter appeared anxious, and we quickly learned our flight had been cancelled due to… no explanation. Weather was fine. No mention of mechanical problems. No air traffic clogs.

We were “checked in” to a United flight which would be leaving an hour or so after our scheduled flight, and we would still be able to make our Denver to St. Louis flight… the last one of the day. After being “checked in” to the United flight by the Frontier counter, we were told that we needed to go stand in line at the United counter.

My wife and I took our six-year-old to the United counter where we stood in line for one hour before being told by a surly older woman that she had no record of us, and we most certainly were not on any United flight to Denver no matter what we had been told by the Frontier people.

We walked back to the Frontier counter, where we waited again. I was irritated by this point, but I did not lose my temper. When we were finally helped, I explained the situation to a diminutive older man. I told him that I was upset, and I gently demanded that we be placed on a flight from Jackson Hole to Denver. I never raised my voice. I used no impolite words.

Whoa! That little guy did not have to take that from me! He yelled full throttle, to both my surprise and the surprise of the nearby likewise frustrated Frontier customers, “I do not have to put you on any damned flight! And I won’t if I don’t want to!”

The Little Napoleon with anger issues was right. He did not have to put us on any damned flight, and my family and I were entirely at his mercy. We could not get out of Jackson Hole without his help. Furthermore, it was peak Yellowstone season, and there were no lodging vacancies and no available rental cars. At any rate, the little charmer decided to get us on the United flight. He stormed over to their counter, stormed back to us and insisted we go back an wait at the United counter.

Unbelieving, we did so. Would we miss the United flight? No worries there, it had become delayed an hour for some inexplicable reason. After another hour in line wondering if our names would show up for the old bag at the United counter, we were relieved to learn that we were in fact on the delayed flight to Denver. Unfortunately, we would definitely miss our Frontier flight to St. Louis… last one of the day. My daughter was going to miss her first day of 1st Grade, and my wife and I were definitely feeling like bad parents at this point.

I called the 800 number for Frontier to see if we could obtain help in finding another route from Denver to St. Louis. No problem said the pleasant Indian gentleman on the other end. It would only cost me three same-day full fares. Would I like to pay with MasterCard or Visa? On principle, I refused to pay. First grade wasn’t worth that much.

Pissed off at Frontier and vowing to never fly them again… and I won’t, even if they are still in business… I made it through security with my family. I walked over to the gate agent counter at Frontier to let them know how much they sucked. Of course there was no one there. They had decided to cancel their flight, so why should anyone man their gate desk? Luckily for us, some industrious Frontier employee had created a list of helpful phone numbers. Among them was a customer service number for the gate agent to call if they needed help.

I copied the number and gave it to my wife to call… better her than me at this point. The fellow at the other end demanded to know how she had come by this special number. She sweetly lied and informed him that she had been given the number by the “non-existent” gate agent. He accepted this and immediately found us tickets for an alternative airline flying out of Denver to St. Louis.

We arrive home very late that night, and my daughter was pretty tired for her first day of 1st grade… but she was there. Thanks to a little forced customer service. 😉

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

DSD February 3, 2010 at 4:37 am

I love the paint schemes on Frontier's planes, but I would never book a flight on that airline. Every vacation we send my Step-son out of Denver back to Cleveland, and I have never seen as much chaos as I do at the Frontier desks.


Jim February 3, 2010 at 11:56 am

I am amazed at the lack of compassion that airline personnel seem to have these days. They should really receive additional training in customer service, and how to deal with tense situations, etc…

So many times when there are mechanicals, inclement weather, etc… all the flying public needs is an apology and a polite explanation, and an attempt at assisting to find alternatives. If nothing else, they should PRETEND to care, and PRETEND to try to help. But, usually all we get is attitude from the airline employees. I guess they are union, and they can't be fired…so, they really do not care.

They need to remember, we paid for our flights. We are the customers. We paid for the service they are to provide. As such, we should be treated as paying customers….not as an inconvenience to their day.

They need to remember, that when a flight is cancelled or delayed for whatever reason…that this could mean we miss an interview, an important meeting, that could mean the difference between profit/loss/bankruptcy.

On a personal level, when a flight is cancelled or delayed for a vacation, it could mean we miss our cruise, we miss our hotel reservation, we miss a day of our very precious vacation, for which we have so few. We work 50 weeks a year…so, those two free weeks of vacation are very valuable to us….so, when something happens to interrupt it…yeah it is frustrating. They need to understand this from a psychological standpoint…and, know how to handle these situations.

Yes, I know their job can be thankless, frustrating…and, that we customers can be rude to them. But, we paid for their services…..and, they are being paid to service us….it is their job….so, do your job and get a better attitude.

O.K. that is my tirade.

In response to your post…Frontier does suck…and, they should have been more customer service friendly…and, as stated, at least PRETEND to care.

But, to you…really? You plan a vacation for which the last day coincides to be the day before, your daughters first day of first grade? You do not win parent of the year for that one. If you travel at all…you know to expect hiccups…and, that you may be delayed…and, she may not make it to the first day of school. Not to mention, how exhausted your daughter may be from a day of normal travel even…to then have the stress of the first day of school…hopefully, you plan ahead better for the future…and, think of your daughter first


Demotage February 3, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Actually, unless the delay is caused by weather, little Napoleon did in fact have to put you on the next available flight. On any airline. And not just to Denver. They have to get you to your final destination as an obligation of the ticket contract.


Demotage February 3, 2010 at 9:07 pm

I should probably refrain, but one thing about this story struck me funny. Now, I wasn't there, so I obviously don't know what went down, but in my experience, the only time an airline employee has lost it with a customer is when that customer was being an ass. So this OP may well believe that he was speaking to the agent in a normal tone, but then why did the agent respond as he did? I can't imagine an agent saying "no I don't have to do that" unless he was basically ordered, rather than asked, to find an alternative. In my many years of flying, the only time a ticket agent has been rude to me was when I lost it and was rude first. My experience in life, not just airlines, is that people are much more helpful when you don't treat them like your servant. Just saying.


Joey April 11, 2010 at 4:54 am

The only time I flew Frontier was that route that you planned to fly. No problems, except I had to fly a prop plane from Jackson Hole to Denver.


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