Frontier Airlines had more passenger gripes than any other U.S. carrier in February as winter weather, schedule changes and a switch to a new reservation system overwhelmed call centers.
At 14.38 per 100,000 boardings, Frontier’s rate was almost 30 times worse than Alaska Airlines’, the industry’s best performer, according to U.S. Transportation Department statistics released Thursday. Spirit Airlines followed Frontier at 8.53.
“The numbers are profoundly disappointing,” Frontier Chief Executive Officer Dave Siegel said in an interview.
Frontier’s struggles helped boost February’s industrywide complaint rate to 1.97. That’s the highest since January 2014, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, and is more than 60 percent higher than the monthly average since the start of 2009.
The problems, Siegel said, grew out of Frontier’s decision to outsource 398 jobs at call centers in Denver and Milwaukee to Sitel Worldwide Corp. because high worker turnover rates left the airline shorthanded.
Frontier, a low-cost airline based in Denver, notified employees in January that jobs would be phased out from March through June. The result was increased attrition and low productivity among workers who remained. Frontier operates more than 200 daily flights to 75 destinations in the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean.
“We actually took a problem that was already bad and we made that problem worse,” Siegel said.
Customer telephone hold times that averaged 45 minutes last summer, before the decision to outsource the jobs, grew to more than an hour. Wait times ballooned to two hours or more in February, amid winter storms. Frontier also had the second-worst on-time performance in February, at 58.8 percent, compared with the industry average of 72.8, according to the DOT report. Only American Airlines’ Envoy Air fared worse at 53.3.
“It clearly was an acute problem,” Siegel said. “We have to say we failed the customer here. February was terrible; we expect March will be bad as well.”
On March 7, Frontier switched to a new computerized reservation system and website, generating more calls from passengers. The shortage of call center workers also meant some customers weren’t notified ahead of time of schedule changes that dropped or moved their flights.
Over the last 10 days, telephone wait times have averaged 5 minutes, the airline said. A backlog of e-mail complaints, handled by Frontier employees, still is being worked through. Siegel said the company expects within 10 days to return to a normal three-day response time for e-mail complaints.
Frontier hasn’t seen a decline in bookings as a result of the problems, President Barry Biffle said.