What’s good for business may not please longtime Frontier customers

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Photo: Frontier Airlines airplane (AP Photo)
A Frontier Airlines plane flies out of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014.

Frontier Airlines is proving the old adage "the customer's always right" may be wrong. Profits at the company are up, but customer satisfaction is down since new management came in a few years ago and changed Frontier to an ultra-low-cost carrier. Specifically, Frontier got 8.2 complaints per 100,000 boardings in May, compared with 2.98 in May 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Air industry journalist Jack Nicas wrote about the company recently in The Wall Street Journal. He spoke with Colorado Matters' Andrea Dukakis.

Nicas on why Frontier charges more for carry-on bags than checked luggage

"You would figure that the checked bag would cost more, because those bags are larger. But what is key to this ultra-low-cost model is that the planes fly as many hours per day as possible. That means Frontier and its peers are trying to quicken turn times at the airport. Basically, as a plane comes in, get the passengers off as quickly as possible and the next set of passengers on as quickly as possible. The fewer carry-on bags that passengers have, the quicker those turn times can be."

On changing the Frontier brand in Denver

"Frontier has been known in the Denver area for decades. The Frontier brand there began in the 1950s. Now, the issue for executives here is they are trying to transform an airline that for many years had been beloved in the Denver area, has kind of been the quirky hometown carrier with leather seats and seat-back televisions and these furry animals on the aircraft tails. And now, they're pulling out these seat-back T.V.s, installing new, thinner seats, and charging... for many things that previously were free. Frontier executives recognize that their task is tougher to convince fliers, especially those who've been long, loyal Frontier customers, that there is this new model that they must adapt to."

On Frontier's recent economic success

"We must remember that Frontier likely wasn't going to last many more years in its old incarnation. It was losing tens of millions of dollars every year. And just in 2014 alone, Frontier, with the new business model, made more money than it did in the previous decade... To me, you want an airline that is stable, that is profitable and that can be dependable -- one that you're not going to spend many hours and dollars building up loyalty points if you can never use them because it goes out of business. A profitable airline is a good airline because it probably means better safety, better attention to detail, and likely, in the long run, more new airplanes and new seats and things like that that ultimately benefit the customers."