Frontier Airlines Turns 27 – The Airline’s History

As Frontier Airlines’ operations turned 27 this month, we thought we’d take a look at the roots of the Denver-based carrier. The company has had plenty of ups and downs over the years, but it has managed to always find a way to overcome the hurdles.

Frontier Airlines 2004
Frontier’s livery has changed design a handful of times since it commenced operations. Photo: Getty Images

Carrying the torch

There have been various carriers adopting the name Frontier over the years. This outfit was founded on February 8th, 1994, by two workers of the veteran Frontier Airlines that operated between 1950 and 1986 – Bob Schulman and Janice Brown. the pair joined Brown’s husband, Frederick W. “Rick” Brown, to set up the company. Notably, they brought in ex-CEO of the original Frontier, M.C. “Hank” Lund, to run the company alongside Sam Addoms as executive vice-president and treasurer, who later became CEO.

Overall, the firm was formed following a gap left by Continental Airlines, which had shut down its Denver Stapleton hub. There was great momentum from the beginning as the company went public just three months after its founding. Subsequently, the airline deployed the Boeing 737 -200 on its initial operations on July 4th. The flights were between Denver and four destinations in North Dakota. Staying with the Frontier theme, approximately 75% of the carrier’s 180-strong workforce was from the original airline.

Expansions were rapid as by the beginning of the following year, states such as Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Texas, Nevada, Nebraska formed part of the airline’s Network. The airline was even serving between the two US coasts by the fall of 1999, along with operations to several distant states.

Frontier Airlines 737
The Spirit of the West slogan was synonymous with the Frontier brand. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Into the new millennium

This rise created the need for new aircraft to join the fold. Thus, before the end of the century, Frontier signed deals to acquire and lease Airbus A318 and A319 narrowbodies along with new 737-300 jets.

The carrier’s ascension garnered attention across the globe. It was listed on Fortune magazine’s list of fastest-growing businesses, giving Frontier a boost ahead of it becoming the launch customer of the Airbus A318 in 2003. Seatmaestro notes that this move laid the foundations for the operator to become an all-Airbus outfit as it retired its final 737 just two years later. Nevertheless, this notion wouldn’t last long as Frontier signed an 11-year agreement with Republic Airlines in 2007 for the regional outfit to operate 17 Embraer 170s.

Financial concerns

2008 was tough on several airlines amid the global economic crisis, and Frontier was no different. Its difficulties came early on in the year, as on April 10th, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This was in response to the firm’s credit card processor, First Data, deciding to withhold all ticket sale proceeds from May 1st. So, the carrier needed to protect its corporate assets. After a series of losses, Frontier started to bounce back, reporting a net income of US$2.9 million in November 2008.

Nonetheless, the financials weren’t so plane sailing in the period that followed. Republic Airways acquired Frontier in 2009, assuming its debt. Republic also purchased Midwest Airlines, initially running it as a separate entity to its other acquisition. However, the following year, it was announced that both units would operate under the Frontier Airlines name. Republic helped to get things back on track for the operation as at the 2011 World Travel Awards, Frontier was given the accolade of North America’s Leading Low-Cost Airline.

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A strong presence

The 2010s saw international expansions, with direct seasonal operations to Montego Bay, Jamaica, announced in the summer of 2013. Other notable international breakthroughs in the decade included expansions to Canada, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Cuba, along with the forming of codeshare agreements with Mexican low-cost carrier Volaris. Moreover, across the board, Frontier proudly announced its 100th destination in April 2019, which was Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA).

Frontier Volaris
In 2015, Frontier announced a firm order for 13 Airbus A321 family aircraft, adding to an existing order for 89 units. Photo: Frontier Airlines

Like the rest of the globe, Frontier’s operations were rocked by the pandemic. However, it is showing that it is determined to return robustly. The carrier has impressive plans on the cards, including massive growth prospects at Miami, where it has an even larger presence now than before the health crisis. The airline has shown that it can deal with challenges in its 27-year history, and there will be plenty of more prospects for the carrier in the years to come.

What are your thoughts about the history of Frontier Airlines? What has your experience been when flying with the carrier over the years? Let us know what you think of the operations in the comment section.