Frontier focuses on Chicago from new O’Hare base

Frontier at O'Hare

Frontier at O’Hare

Frontier Airlines, continuing its blitz on Chicago, is expected Tuesday to announce four more flights from its new base at O’Hare International Airport as the discounter transitions out of Chicago’s Midway Airport.

The announcement comes on the heels of Frontier’s seven new destinations from O’Hare announced this month, which makes Chicago one of Frontier’s “focus cities,” along with a few others, such as Cleveland and Trenton, N.J., that offer a concentration of flights outside its lone hub in Denver.

“It’s a huge market. O’Hare is the preferred airport,” Frontier CEO Dave Siegel said in an interview. “You have two legacy carriers there (United Airlines and American Airlines), but it’s still an underserved market where we can bring our low fares and friendly service, expand the market and create some additional choice for customers.”

The Denver-based ultralow-cost carrier has flown limited flights from Midway since the late 1990s. But this month, it began its first flight from O’Hare, six days a week to Dulles airport outside Washington. The move to O’Hare means it’s now going head to head with its primary competition in the deep-discount market, Spirit Airlines.

Both airlines are known for low fares and for aggressively charging fees, even for carry-on bags and seat assignments.

Siegel said getting into O’Hare has been a priority for him since he took over at Frontier in 2012.

“We have the advantage of the low fares and the great product. What we had was a disadvantage in the airport that we serve,” Siegel said. The merger of American Airlines and US Airways freed up a gate for Frontier, he said.

Does Frontier plan to discontinue its service from Midway? “We haven’t made any final decisions there, but you can see our growth is out of O’Hare,” Siegel said.

Frontier, which started in 1994, will begin flying this week from O’Hare to Cleveland, Denver and Atlanta, with flights beginning later in the month to Phoenix and Salt Lake City. Las Vegas, Miami, and Orlando and Tampa, Fla., will be added in December, with Philadelphia added in March. Its limited year-round service out of Midway has mostly been to its Denver base and, more recently, Trenton.

With recent airline mergers and cutbacks in the total number of seats available in the domestic airline industry, airfares have been rising, Siegel said.

“What we’re trying to be is a counterbalance to that,” he said. “We’re the only ones who deliver low fares and a great product to go with it.”

For a departure on a random date, Monday, Nov. 3, to Denver, Frontier’s fare is about $184 from O’Hare, while the cheapest legacy carriers, American and Chicago-based United, both had fares at $266, according to prices on Spirit had a flight the same day for $154.

Some Frontier customers have been less than thrilled with the airline recently.

For months, Frontier has ranked worst in customer-complaint rates, according to reports at the Department of Transportation. In July, the most recent data available, 4.22 formal complaints were lodged against Frontier for every 100,000 passengers it carried, nearly double its rate from the year before and far worse than the second-worst carrier, United, at 3.39 complaints per 100,000. Spirit, also known to garner rampant complaints, does not yet report its complaint rates to the department. Siegel contends that Frontier would rank better.


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