Head of Frontier pilots' union compares airline to a house of cards

Posted at 3:07 PM, Dec 21, 2016

DENVER – The head of Frontier’s pilots union compared the airline to a “house of cards” in a letter to pilots Wednesday.

“It goes without saying that this has been a horrible week for Frontier Airlines,” Brian Ketchum wrote in the letter reviewed by Denver7 Investigates.

Denver7 has reported on delays affecting thousands of passengers since snow and contract-employee sick calls triggered a ripple effect across the airline’s route network Saturday. The effects continued Wednesday.

About 80 percent of flights operated Wednesday, according to Frontier spokesman Jim Faulkner.

The union head said the delays were the worst ever at the airline.

“Our airline was painfully exposed as an ultra-low cost carrier whose business model might be compared to a ‘house of cards,’ incurring an operational meltdown and virtual collapse in the face of weather conditions that other airlines were able to overcome and that are par for the course this time of year,” Ketchum wrote. “The scale of this week’s debacle appears to dwarf anything we have seen in our careers at Frontier.”

The union that represents Frontier's pilots is in the process of negotiating a new contract with the airline. The current contract expires in March.

The letter included comments that Ketchum said he received from Frontier pilots. The employees were not identified and Denver7 did not speak with the employees.

“I have no confidence in (Frontier),” Ketchum said a Frontier captain with 16-years on the job wrote to him.

Another pilot echoed the frustration.

“I am disgraced by how our customers and employees have been treated,” said a pilot with less than a year in the job in the letter.

Ketchum said Tuesday he was satisfied with the explanations he received about what caused the issues when he met with Frontier’s Vice President of Flight Operations, Jimmy Nides.

Wednesday, Ketchum appeared to take a stronger tone about how the company handled issues.

“I am not at all satisfied with the company’s response to their employees in the wake of the weekend events,” he wrote.

Ketchum told Denver7 Nides said problems started when the one to three inches of predicted snow turned into eight inches at Denver International Airport.

The problem compounded when contract workers, who load bags on planes, called in sick in large numbers Saturday morning.

Thousands of passengers were stranded across the country and many were told they had to wait days before they could be rebooked.

Frontier has apologized to passengers and offered refunds of tickets purchased with money and miles.

Faulkner, the Frontier spokesman, said the airline hopes to reconcile all bags and owners by Thursday.

"That doesn’t mean people will have bags, just that we’ve processed the claims and have verified contact information and addresses," he said.

It takes longer to find contract information for customers who booked at sites other than directly through Frontier, Faulkner said.


Jace Larson

Jace Larson is an award-winning investigative reporter for Denver7 Investigates. If you have a story idea or a tip for Jace, email or text him at or 720-270-1468. You can remain anonymous. Connect with Jace on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

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