Companies often try new things; they try new things to ignite their customer bases, please their boards, expand into new markets, increase overall market share, etc. These alternative solutions often involve slight alterations in brand strategy or positioning. In more extreme situations, it can be an entire pivot. But, as is true in many walks of life, communication is king.

If you’re a company with a reputable brand in an established industry, your customers have developed an expectation of service. Regardless of how high or low that level of service is, your customers have grown accustomed to it. If, however, a company makes a significant pivot in the marketplace, downgrades the quality of its offerings, and doesn’t pass that information on to its customers, it can result in some pretty confused — and majorly unhappy — customers.

Frontier Airlines did just that.

There’s no denying the growth and profitability of Spirit Airlines. Their “unbundled fares” model, while infuriating for customers, is immensely profitable for the airline. But, fliers can’t complain too much because they know Spirit is terrible. That’s how it offers such low fares. You put up with the awful-to-non-existent customer service, the staggering ancillary fees, and miserable flying experience because it’s so cheap.

While I’ll never fly Spirit, I can’t begrudge them their business model. Some people are fully willing to put up with all that in favor of saving money.
Last year, Frontier made a significant change in its business model, downgrading from a low-cost carrier to an “ultra-low-cost carrier” like Spirit. While it might have been good for shareholders, I would argue it was terrible for its brand and its customers.

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I had flown Frontier multiple times over the years, and I always had a positive brand experience. The fares were reasonable, it serviced various locations I either needed to or loved to visit, and it had ever taken good care of me.

I purchased a ticket to Denver on Frontier last week and naturally expected the same level of service and professionalism I had experienced previously.
How wrong I was.

Frontier not only charges for checked bags now, an unfortunate industry standard at this point, but it costs for carrying on bags. Even if you check in the night before and have printed boarding tickets, it required me to wait in line for 30 minutes to drop the bags. There were 100 people in line, and only two agents servicing that line — another sign of a budget airline.
Frontier doesn’t participate in TSA PreCheck for some reason, so I had to wait in line for another 45 minutes for security. The flight was delayed an hour. It was an hour and a half flight, and it took me longer to get from the curb to the gate than from the gate to Denver.

On the flight, the tray tables are only large enough to support an iPhone; the seats don’t lean back unless you’ve paid for “stretch seating.” To top it all off, as I communicated with Frontier’s social media team, they could not comprehend the problem. Then, after spelling it out for them in no uncertain terms, their “answers” only made me angrier.

Now, these practices aren’t evil or wrong, but it enraged me. The brand experience was so much worse than what I had come to expect from Frontier.

If I knew that’s what to expect from Frontier, I would have prepared myself mentally for the terrible customer experience and been better able to weather it. But not knowing that going in made for one of the worst customer experiences of my life.

Frontier could have avoided all this by better communicating with me as a customer during the booking and check-in process. If I had known what to expect, I would have been better able to cope. But, given the shocking experience compared to my prior positive expectations for Frontier, I will likely never fly with them again.