Dear Frontier Airlines:
It’s July 21, 2014 and I’m writing this aboard one of your flights from Trenton to Nashville. The flight itself is quite pleasant, as most of my flights on Frontier have been. Learning of your new bag fee structure, put into effect in April, by being forced to pay to bring my carry-on on board was not so pleasant. Not when you learn of it an hour before your flight.
Let me explain why, but before I do I will acknowledge that the right to charge such a fee was written into the Terms and Conditions that I, like most people, agreed to at a third-party site without fully investigating. I accept responsibility for that. I’m quite grateful that your new bag fee isn’t $5,000. Then I would’ve had a decision to make, but at $35 — or $50 at the gate if you should somehow escape through security and be told right before you board, after you stuffed your computer bag inside your carry-on of course, that your bag is too big — it’s just enough to be annoying. But what choice did I have? Throw my bag and belongings in the trash? Not take the flight? Just pay the money?
Like all of the customers in line at the customer service gate this morning who were just learning about this new policy, I choose to pay, but not happily. Here are a few reasons I find this problematic:
1. I understand the new bag policy. I really do. It’s smart, but that doesn’t make it reasonable for people who booked via a third-party site, which made no effort to explain that those charges would be coming. Some might call that extortion. I just call it a poor way to serve your customers. It’s a customer service problem that could’ve easily been avoided. And, though I didn’t need to be, I’ve already been told via Twitter, in essence, “hey, what those other sites do isn’t our problem,” so please skip that part. I knew that the moment I realized I was paying $35 for my bag whether I wanted to or not.
2. The new fee came as such a shock because I didn’t have to pay any additional money for my bags on my outgoing flight from Nashville four days prior. Did I just slip through the cracks there? Why wasn’t I charged? Southern hospitality? Please explain the discrepancy, not because it would’ve made things any better, but because I’m genuinely curious.
3. Please also explain why you would possibly put this sort of burden on your customer service representatives? Seems inefficient and exhausting for everyone involved. After expressing my shock to the customer service rep in Trenton, I finally ponied up for the bag that was free four days earlier — again, what choice did I have? — and then apologized to that rep, explaining that I wasn’t angry with her, just how this policy was being communicated — or not communicated, actually — to the customers. She then said, “that’s how they get you, cheap air fare, but charge for the bags.” We finally agreed on something and it was how much worse this process was making both of our days.
4. Looked back at my Travelocity receipt for this flight and it had the boilerplate fine print reading “Price does not include baggage fees or other fees charged directly by the airline.” I suppose that covers both of you — the booking site and the airline — but I’m not sure why an airline would willingly agree to put their customers and their own customer service reps in such an unsavory situation of learning/explaining why their flight is suddenly $40 to 100 more expensive than first thought. You CAN do this of course, but SHOULD you? I would’ve happily paid the bag fees in advance, saving myself $15 per bag per leg of the trip if I’d known those fees existed. I didn’t and because I didn’t I had to pay even more. Pretty tricky, that.
5. As previously mentioned, I get the strategy here: Open up an additional source of revenue at a time when all airlines are looking for the same while also encouraging people to book through your own site. I’m sure that the fact that your flights appear cheaper and more competitive on third-party travel sites is just a happy coincidence. And they do — it works! — because those sites are now showing a price that’s $40 to $100 less than the actual out-of-pocket cost for a round trip. Some people learn about that at the airport. The bag fee I had to pay here is of relatively little concern — I paid it and still had a reasonably priced trip — but the principle still matters. Or it does to me. I’m sure — or rather I really really hope — that at some point when this new bag fee structure was being discussed that someone at Frontier, somewhere along the way, stepped up and said “it really seems like we’re exploiting a loophole here for people who book somewhere other than our own site” I would feel better if that were the case, though it’s a temporary joy as that concern was obviously discarded if it ever existed.
I can’t imagine that my complaint is unique, so here’s a strategy for you: Instead of springing these new bag charges on people when they show up at the airport, how about waiving it the first time someone encounters it? Let your employees play the good guy instead of the heavy by saying, “normally that bag would cost you $35, but if you book via FlyFrontier.com you can save $10 each way and today will let it on for free.” Give the customers who have already paid the fee via your own website a free bag voucher once so it’s fair for everyone. Either way, I’d be a lot more likely to use Frontier again. Customer education always costs something. Does that not achieve the long-term goals behind the fees? Is it a reasonable way to educate customers about them?
That’s for you to decide, but please know that my fee for generating customer service solutions, whether acted upon or not, is $35. You agree to pay that fee by reading to the end of this sentence.
Thanks for your time,