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Frontier shifting its flight scheduling, impacting flight attendants and the flying public

Frontier Airlines is shifting to flying more out-and-back flights to save money and become more reliable for fliers, though that shift is upsetting the flight attendants union
Frontier Airlines
Posted at 4:00 PM, Apr 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-03 08:51:47-04

DENVER — Frontier Airlines is shifting to flying more out-and-back flights, upsetting the flight attendants union, who says that model will hurt employees and even force some to quit.

“Yes, it's a 180. It's absolutely a 180,” Frontier chapter president of the Association of Flight Attendants, Jen Sala, told Denver7.

While the typical model used by most US air carriers involves flying multi-day trips to multiple cities and involving two or three overnights, Frontier is turning almost primarily to ‘turns’ or out and back flights, according to the union. That shift has already begun, with the percentage of the airline's flights becoming more and more out-and-back.

Frontier shifting its flight scheduling, impacting flight attendants and the flying public

“We are upset. The flight attendant group is upset. We find that this is a significant negative economic impact on our flight attendant group,” Sala said.

Denver7 spoke to three members of the AFA union at Denver International Airport recently. All three are Frontier flight attendants, who have all worked for the airline for at least five years. They explained how they are going to be impacted, starting with pay.

“So if I am on a three day trip, then I’m getting paid from the time I leave Denver to the time I come back to Denver. And that's a per diem that we that we are allowed,” flight attendant and union member Lenore Walter said.

“Roughly $50 a day,” union member Chase Isley said, roughly calculating that per diem. “For a four day trip, potentially $200.”

“When you just have a turn, you're just out and back,” Lenore added, explaining that flight attendants do not earn that extra amount.

Another issue that union members say come with the Frontier change is commute time.

“Previously, in order to get the number of hours that I wanted to fly per month, that was one three or four day trip per week for me, which meant four times back and forth to the airport for me,” flight attendant and union member Anissa Long said. “Now in order to get those same amount of hours, I would be driving back and forth 12 times.”

Between the cost of gas, wear and tear on their vehicles, and simply time to get back and forth to the airport, the union says the ‘turn’ model costs members more. On top of that, the union says more than half of their Denver flight attendants are flying commuters, who fly into Denver to work on outbound flights.

“That's just not feasible to fly in every day for a turn, just to fly back home at the end of the night, fly back again the next day to do a turn, and fly back again the next night. That's not feasible,” Chase said, adding that some commuters fly in from Las Vegas or Nevada before even starting their shifts.

When asked about the shift to turns, Frontier sent Denver7 a statement, which reads:

"We are committed to safety and reliability. Last year we had excessive cancellations primarily as a result of air traffic control delays. In such instances, more passengers are negatively affected by delays and cancellations when aircraft are routed on multi-day trips versus out and back flying which significantly decreases downline impacts. To better serve our customers we have reduced multi-day trips although we are still operating some for those crew members who prefer them. For the first two months of the year, we are number one in completion for the industry suggesting early results are encouraging."

The local union said those multi-day trips the airline references are few and far between, usually reserved for the small percentage of flight attendants with the highest levels of seniority.

As far as an impact on the traveling public, aviation professor Chad Kendall from Metro State University in Denver, agreed with the airline as far as this model's end result of better reliability.

"If there's weather disruptions to the entire network, then having an out-an- back model will reduce those disruptions to the traveling public," he said.

Kendall says the airline's decision is a financial one, which will have an impact on both fliers and employees, one seemingly more welcomed than the other.

"This is a positive benefit for the public, there's going to be less disruptions. And change is hard. Certainly as employees, when you're used to one model and then going to a completely new model, then there has to be some adoption that takes place," he added

But that 'change' has led some flight attendants to reconsider their careers with Frontier.

“My initial reaction was, it's the beginning of the end of my time in this career for this airline,” Anissa said.

“I can't sustain this. And so this is this is going to force my hand to leave the company, unfortunately, because I just i can't do this,” Lenore added.

Lenore ultimately made that decision.

“I have already submitted my notice," she said.

The Frontier chapter union president says many more could follow.

“We are expecting that there are going to be many flight attendants who look around and say this isn't going to change, I can't I can't sustain this,” Jen Sala said.

Meanwhile, the national union has deployed petitions, asking Frontier to reconsider its new policy.

According to one petition: “Frontier management is proposing changes that will make it impossible for Flight Attendants to earn a fair paycheck and make service worse for passengers.”

“Generally, we're looking at it about 5,000 people who signed it. We're still increasing those numbers as the petition goes around the U.S. and other flight attendant groups,” Sala explained.

Denver7 followed up with Frontier, asking about union members’ specific concerns about pay, commute time, and possible resignations. They responded with another statement:

"We have made a significant effort to accommodate crew members who prefer multi-day trips and we have not seen any spike in attrition among our flight attendants or pilots."

“We as flight attendants want to see Frontier succeed. We want a business model that works. We just don't want the economic stress of that model to fall on our backs,” Sala said.

Denver7 also reached out to the union representing Frontier pilots to get their take on the new plan. A statement from the Frontier pilot group, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) reads:

“Frontier employees have little to no input or influence on how our management team runs the airline, but it is the same employees who bear the brunt of the impact those changes create. Things like having to choose between a disruptive family move to a new city or state, or drastically reduced time at home with our families because all of a sudden, we have an interstate commute and the added stress that entails. Frontier’s history of starting and stopping service in various markets on short notice adds even more uncertainty for employees. This is all particularly hard on our crews as they are all significantly underpaid relative to the industry and now the company is burdening us with hotel costs and reduced per diem”

The Association of Flight Attendants says they plan to continue their push against the new model.

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