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Frontier “Uneventful” Inaugural To Wilmington DE

Wed Jul 03, 2013 6:20 am

Frontier “Most Uneventful” Inaugural to Wilmington New Castle Airport July 1, 2013

For an airport finally getting a flight after five years of hiatus (Skybus Airlines, which ended all operation in 2008, was the last scheduled airline that served New Castle Airport), and a unique expansion course taken by an airline, which is the midst of a dramatic change, this first flight was definitely most underwhelming, and the fact that the F/As on our flight made a mistaken announcement by welcoming us on a flight to Trenton spoke loud about how uneventful this inaugural flight meant. Of course I have always said that JetBlue and Virgin America really spoiled me on festive inaugural flights, but inaugural flights are meant to be festive to attract attention from the press, so the media will promote your flights. So for such key day here in New Castle, it is rather disappointing for an aviation enthusiast like me. I am just glad that I do not give up marching during New York Pride this past weekend (considered the significance of this year for the LGBT movement, which is slightly off topic) to get to Wilmington for the real inaugural flight from Wilmington New Castle Airport to Chicago Midway. I have thought about not writing about it, but since July 1 only marks Frontier’s major transition from a low cost airline to an ultra low cost airline, it is more interesting to see how the crews handle the change and what else were cut this month. I actually feel that the nervous energy about the cabin crew about this service change takes even more away from Frontier’s entry into a new airport.

Here were the flights I took:
July 1, 2013
F9 384 MDW-ILG Lv 9:25am Arr 12:20pm Airbus A320-200 N203FR “Sally the Mustang”

July 2, 2013
F9 395 ILG-DEN Lv 1:20pm Arr 3:20pm Airbus A320-200 N203FR “Sally the Mustang”

Frontier Airlines’ website is pretty easy to navigate, and the Classic Plus fare, which is actually the best feature of Frontier Airlines’ fare system, is easy to spot, and I am able to book the exit rows with no issues. The fare I paid is fairly reasonable for a changeable and fully refundable ticket, and I am one of those people, who are willing to pay a bit more for flexibility, as long as they are not unreasonable like the major airlines. I have heard problems with changing tickets, but since I did not need to modify this trip for this occasion, I can’t really say much about it. However I am able to do the online check-in easily, so no complaint about the website.

Chicago Midway Airport – I arrived from La Guardia on Southwest, so I went straight to gate C2 about an hour prior to departure to get my boarding pass. The agent was questioning how I go through security and I told her that I flew from LGA just for the inaugural. She did not say anything but said, “okay.” Not particularly friendly, but she did her job. She seemed to be patient with other passengers’ inquiry, so not bad for an ultra low cost airline (ULCC).

Gate C2 – Frontier’s gate at Midway

New chart explaining the new “updated” fare structure

Wilmington New Castle Airport

It is a small regional airport with a single café (opening between 9am and 3pm), so if you are going for the early flights departing at 7am, please pack your own breakfast and expect to get a drink on a vending machine after passing TSA security or expect to buy it on the plane.

Here is the Coffee Shop

Atrium – bathrooms and café

Here are some pictures around New Castle Airport

Here is the check-in counter for Frontier. There are no self-check-in kiosks, which I presume Frontier does not need them unless they decide that New Castle airport is profitable. Please note that the check-in counters opened two hours prior to departure, and they close forty-five minutes prior to departure. There will be NO ONE staffing the desk, as Frontier is an ultra low cost airline with check-in agents also handing gate agents and the aircraft turnaround. There are separate check-in lanes for Ascent/Summit members and Classic Plus passengers.

I took the following pictures on the day when I actually flew back to Denver. The flight was almost completely full by the way, and there were basically three people working the counters at all time. After the agent tagged your bags, you have to take them next door to the TSA station. For today’s flight, there were three Frontier staffs, along with two outsourced staffs wearing black t-shirts. For today’s flight, two Frontier’s staffs assisted with check-in, as well as one Frontier’s staff directing passengers to the correct line. One is normal airport counter, and one is for premium and elite passengers, along with passengers with a printed boarding pass from home.

It is clear that online check-in will definitely be recommended given the small operation here. The premium line was much shorter and processing time was shorter.

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RE: Frontier “Uneventful” Inaugural To Wilmington DE

Wed Jul 03, 2013 6:22 am

Flight Information:
Well back to Chicago Midway, July 1st also marks Sun Country’s Inaugural to Chicago Midway from Minneapolis St. Paul, and you can immediately see how difference Sun Country treats inaugural flight, and they set up a table of snckas and gift bags for their passengers. You see many Sun Country staffs coming out to celebrate the inaugural flight, and the contrast can’t be any obvious. So Sun Country’s inaugural flights will definitely be on my “to do” list, while I may not bother with Frontier’s Inaugural flight. To give Sun Country’s credits, here are their setups at Midway, and they will be using gate C1.

Sun Country’s Inaugural flight – they received a water salute canon on their arrival in Midway – a Boeing 737-700 Winglet is being used on this short flight.

Chicago Midway is definitely Southwest’s land

Gate C2MDW – the inbound flight from Wilmington New Castle Airport was running late today, and the flight was put on a holding pattern, as I was tracking it at the flightradar24 apps.

The inbound flight finally landed on MDW at 9:05am.

The inbound flight from ILG was almost completely full with 150 passengers. However the flight ran late and the Sun Country flight arrived early, the C gates were very crowded and the agent had to ask people to clear a path for arriving passengers to deplane. The turnaround time was quite speedy and the ground agents tried to catch up time, as this same aircraft has to work the afternoon rotation to Houston. Boarding finally started at 9:28am and priority boarding was reinforced with Frontier’s own top elite members, and then Zone 1 passengers, followed by passengers traveling with small children. The return flight was not as full, but 98 passengers were not bad for the first return flight from Midway to Wilmington. The Stretch section remains mainly empty or filled with Frontier’s staffs. I believe that the pilots flying the Houston rotation in the afternoon flew on this flight as passengers. It was the first day, so the crew rotation was a bit unusual. Our cabin crew only worked this single flight before flying the rotation to Orlando the following morning. The exit rows had only three passengers, and we each got our own three seats.

Door was closed at 9:46am and we pushed back three minutes later. We took off from R/W4R at 9:58am. Our flying time was an hour and thirty-three minutes with a cruising attitude of 39,000feet.

Some pictures of Chicago short after takeoff

For the Denver flight, the inbound flight came in from Orlando, which arrived almost thirty minutes early.
To my surprise, the same aircraft that brought me to Wilmington the day before was working my flight to Denver. I think the aircraft will rotate out after the flight goes back to Denver. However N203FR Sally the Mustang flew in from Indianapolis Sunday night to Wilmington, and then worked this Chicago Midway rotation, and then Houston rotation, and then Orlando, and the back to Denver, before working other flights.

There is only one gate here at Wilmington New Castle airport. TSA operation is small with only one SINGLE lane, and you should enter the gate after check-in. Plus there is really nothing much going on this small regional airport. After passing TSA machine, you immediate spot these three vending machines – sodas, hot beverages, and snacks.

There are two main seating rooms in gate 1. Here is the larger one behind TSA lanes, and there are also two toilets.

There is another reading room towards the window.

Gate Podium

With the early arrival of the inbound flight from Orlando, boarding began early at 12:35pm, with the wheelchaired passengers first, followed by Summit member. Then Classic Plus and Ascent members were invited along with Zone 1. Here in Wilmington, both front and aft doors were used for boarding, but honestly I did not see much time was saved, but then it might be a learning curve thing here at ILG, as the outsourced staffs still tried to learn all the ropes.

View of the boarding room from outside

Control tower and main terminal and boarding lounge

N203FR Sally the Mustang again here at Gate 1 but no rain today

Boarding was completed at 1:09pm, and the speed was a bit slower, as the staffs were trying to get used to the setup.
We pushed back at 1:14pm, as there was no other traffic.

We took off from R/W27 at 1:22pm. Flying time was three hours and twenty-three minutes, as we cruised at 34,000feet and then climbed to 36,000feet. Here was the routing:
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RE: Frontier “Uneventful” Inaugural To Wilmington DE

Wed Jul 03, 2013 6:23 am

Frontier Airlines’ A320s are fairly discussed, and the cabin reminded me of an earlier version of Jetblue’s décor with less legroom but the same faux leather seats (grey in JetBlue and green in Frontier) with earlier generalization of Personal TV. The first five rows are stretch section, as well as two rows of exit rows, and they are clearly marked in the cabin, and it definitely discourages people from upgrading themselves. The overhead bin also has a “stretch” section marked too.

First unique poster at each aircraft – N203FR is named “Sally the Mustang”

Plus Section

Exit Row

Regular section in the aft section

Overhead bin featuring Stretch Section

Cabin Service
July 1st is also a big day for Frontier’s cabin crews, as Frontier Airlines will introduce a new range of “enhancement” to their cabin service! Here is the link to the new catering concept:

Beginning July 1, Frontier Airlines will no longer provide everyone a complimentary nonalcoholic beverage if you are not a Classic or Classic Plus passenger, as well as Frontier Ascent and Summit members. However, if you purchase a soda, you will get a full can, instead of just a glass, and you will get unlimited refills if you order tea or coffee. From what I heard at the gate, cabin crews were not impressed with this move, and were very confused about the amount of beverages that are free. I heard one crew asking another member a question, “If a passenger order a rum and coke, do I have to charge him or her both for the rum and also the soda?” As a Classic Plus passenger, I am entitled for non-alcoholic beverages, and a choice of premium non-alcoholic beverages (Izze’s sparkling juices, bottled waters, and milk), and alcoholic beverages. But how many cokes am I allowed? I asked Frontier through twitter, and the answer is that I am entitled to one regular non-alcoholic beverage, and one premium beverage per flight over 200 miles. But when I asked the F/A during the service, she told me that I could have unlimited amount of regular non-alcoholic beverages as a Classic Plus passenger. However the biggest issue is that the boarding pass stub (the small stub) that they gave you does not actually have the PLUS logo, and Frontier needs to work on this issue immediately, and make sure the PLUS logo is also printed in the small stub side. That is a major oversight. For all three flights, the flight attendants all asked Classic and Classic Plus passengers to keep their boarding passes handy (but once again, there was no indication of the fares you paid on the stub of the boarding passes, but all three operates differently. On one flight, the flight attendant basically casually looked at my boarding pass. On one flight, the flight attendants just refer to the master list, and on one flight, I have to produce my itinerary, which I happened to have a copy. I honestly think Frontier needs to come up with a solution quickly, such as making sure that the small stub of the boarding passes also indicates your Classic or Classic Plus status, or issue those eligible passengers an extra coupon to hand out to the passengers, like what the European LLCs do.

Looking at the magazine pocket – there was only this safety card!

Frontier always has as inflight catering and entertainment guide explaining the paid service offered on board. On this critical date, Frontier has failed to print them on time. Only safety card and vomit bag! I usually don’t care much about it but this guide is important today because you are basically changing everything that you have been doing regarding in-flight beverage and snack service. I will quote one of the F/As, “I am just as confused as you regarding this new buy on board service!” I have a feeling that the amount of free beverages I received will simply subject to the interpretation of your cabin crews on your flight. I don’t mind buy on board, but mind that there are no guides telling people about the new service concepts, but many rules are not clearly defined.

Diet Pepsi in Fly Frontier Cup but on a US Airways napkin – that is strange!

US Airways napkin?

I also bought a bag of Rocky Mountain’s Gourmet Popcorn to support the Red Cross. Plus the popcorns are really good!

On the return flights from Wilmington New Castle Airport to Los Angeles International via Denver International, I discover that Frontier has quietly dropped all the “fresh food” being sold on board, which I definitely did not appreciate. Especially there are limited food options at Wilmington; I look forward to buying a sandwich or a hot burrito. If you recall, there is no more catering guide in each seat, so I only find out this elimination when I ask the F/A. They encourage to write Frontier Airlines, which I will do so. Anyway, I have specifically enquired that if I can have one premium drink and one regular drink, and I basically got a can of soda and a can of the Izze’s Sparkling Clementine soda on both flights. Both F/As were okay with this request. There were passengers ordering coffee on all three flights and the F/As made at least a second coffee run on these flights. I also ordered chip and salsa on the return flight from Wilmington to Denver.

Premium and regular beverages

Chip and Salsa

Finally… Frontier’s napkin

Direct TV and movies were shown, and they cost $5.99 on this short flight to Wilmington, and cost $7.99 on the flight from ILG to Denver. Classic Plus passengers no longer get them free, and only Ascent and Summit member got TV free by swiping their elite cards. Direct TV had a more limited lineup than JetBlue. However with these charges, I feel that Frontier needs to enhance its lineup, since most passengers, regardless of fares purchased, have to pay for the Direct TV service now. There are also three movies playing in cycles – not on demand.

The captain try to catch up some times on the flight to Chicago Midway, but the weather requires a number to turns along the route. However we managed to arrive at gate only 16 minutes late. Descent began at 11:54am EST, and the weather was not too good – light rain.

Here are some pictures of our descent:

We landed on R/W19 at 12:31pm and we parked at the only gate five minutes later.
There was a water canon salute, and the irony that no one told us about it. I only spotted it when I saw it out the window. Come on, the cockpit crews should have said something. It really took all the fun out of it. Anyway, it is raining, and I can barely take this picture.

But we at least got a water canon welcome.

As mentioned earlier, Wilmington Airport has a different boarding and deplaning procedure, as both the front and aft doors were used. However the aft stairs were not used on our arrival – maybe the weather, but for the onward flight to Houston, I overhead that both front and aft stairs were set up. Here are some pictures of N203FR on my arrival at Wilmington New Castle airport!

Here is the baggage shack – view from the plane – just a basic white building with an entry way for arrival passengers.

Baggage Claim here at Wilmington New Castle Airport

For the Denver flight, descent began at 2:22pm Mountain Standard time, and we landed on R/W7 at 2:45pm. We parked at gate A42 five minutes later – thirty minutes ahead of schedule.

N203FR here at Denver

In conclusion, this inaugural flight is really non-existent and I can just claim that I flew the first commercially operated flight to Wilmington New Castle Airport, and the first flight from Wilmington to Denver. Frontier has done its PR the previous week by flying a Frontier A320 to Wilmington and to show it off to the press. My only explanation is that the limited TSA capability, there is no way the press can be accommodated at the small gate area. However as an aviation enthusiast, I am hesitate to book another Frontier’s inaugural especially to these second or third-tier regional cities in the future.

However, my trip report ends up documenting a major step of Frontier Airlines’ transition from a low cost airline to an ultra low cost airline. The elimination of complimentary nonalcoholic beverages is just the first step along with increased baggage fees. However, Frontier also cuts back on its buy on board menu, especially the elimination of hot snacks and sandwiches, which I find it quite a dramatic change. I don’t mind Frontier changes its fresh food buy on board programs to a pre-ordering program, but since Frontier flies to these regional cities, it should really expand its buy on board service rather than cutting back. Anyway, I think Cranky does its best to explain Frontier’s transformation.
It is definitely not the Frontier Airlines that I have remembered, and if Cranky is right, Denver is no longer going to operate like a hub today connecting major cities in the West Coast and East Coast. To me, it is a downward spiral but then if Frontier has to survive, it has to further transit to an ultra lower cost model. Nonetheless, it is sad to see Frontier’s “demise.”

About Wilmington New Castle Airport, all the flights this week are very full and the loading is extremely good given that it has just stated a limited operation. My Denver flight was almost 100% full, which was very good given it was the inaugural flight. Okay this week is July 4th so the load factor should be high. But from what I heard, the loading was good. I have a feeling that Wilmington may work out fine for Frontier.

Thanks for reading and no major trip reports for a while!
Safe travels in the summer!

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RE: Frontier “Uneventful” Inaugural To Wilmington DE

Wed Jul 03, 2013 10:07 am

Fantastic and thorough review of this new service. Yes I also have to say that I hate the way that F9 has evolved. The Frontier name just does not deserve that ULCC image IMHO! I wish them well and we all know the USA needs competition It is also exciting to see small airports receive service. I just never understood why ILG could not attract more with the amount of banking and money in the area. I know PHL is very close but still...
Landing on every Continent almost on an annual basis!
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RE: Frontier “Uneventful” Inaugural To Wilmington DE

Wed Jul 03, 2013 10:24 am

Thanks for the detailed trip report. I was quite curious about this new service since I lived in Wilmington for two years while working in DE. I've been to the new castle airport and never imagined a commercial passenger service! plus the area around the airport is not really the best. I was planning to take the same flight in a month, but alas, my trip to Denver has been canceled.

Really surprised that there was absolutely no hooplah about this inaugural! I would have expected the New Castle airport to be prettied up at the very least.

Do you think most of the passengers were from the Philly area? I can't imagine so many non-stops from Wilmington being profitable unless their trying to siphon off market share from PHL. It's quite the risky, albeit interesting, move by Frontier.
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RE: Frontier “Uneventful” Inaugural To Wilmington DE

Fri Jul 05, 2013 7:11 pm

Hi Carfield

Another nice trip report, thanks for sharing it with us.
Great to see Frontier having PTVs again! they look decent to be an LCC  

Next trip report: Well worn A330s and Hassle free MUC transfer
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RE: Frontier “Uneventful” Inaugural To Wilmington DE

Fri Jul 05, 2013 8:25 pm

Thanks for the trip report! I've now flown F9 twice out of TTN (to MSY and MDW) and I have to say, the airport in ILG looks much nicer and larger! Its difficult to hold the passengers for an A319 in the gate area at TTN.

F9 is really at the crossroad in terms of being an LCC. I think they have a good hard product with DirectTV and comfortable seats. I'm still amazed that people don't book nowadays through an airline's website directly...
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RE: Frontier “Uneventful” Inaugural To Wilmington DE

Fri Jul 05, 2013 8:40 pm

Quoting Carfield (Thread starter):

Great trip report! Enjoyed reading and the pictures.

Great that you got to cover two inaugural flights in one report from my local airport! Thanks for sharing the first SY flight into MDW.      
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RE: Frontier “Uneventful” Inaugural To Wilmington DE

Sun Jul 07, 2013 6:04 pm

Really used to be my personal favourite airline in the US. Shame. I know so many people that work for them and hope these new enhancements work to save this airline. As a kid, I still remember the ads they used to play in Denver on TV. "Denver's hometown airline" was the best.

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