Frontier Airlines lost Sri Varadarajan’s uncle. Rajen Narayan was supposed to fly from Dallas to San Francisco for his 90th birthday party but found himself on a plane to Las Vegas instead, to the shock of his relatives waiting for him at the airport.
It’s hard to imagine a worse situation than losing your hard-of-hearing, nonagenarian uncle on Frontier Airlines flight. But Frontier wasn’t done yet. The airline then made a series of almost unbelievable errors that ultimately compelled Varadarajan to contact our advocacy team in desperation.
The bizarre case of Uncle Rajen’s flight to San Francisco is a cautionary tale about flying on an “ultra low cost” carrier and about Frontier Airlines’ customer service in particular. (Frontier Airlines’ reviews leave something to be desired.) It’s a sad commentary on how airline policies and procedures can make a bad situation even worse. But it’s also a helpful reminder that some passengers shouldn’t fly without a chaperone.
How Frontier Airlines lost Uncle Rajen
Uncle Rajen was scheduled to fly from Dallas to San Francisco in August.
“We had a special 90th birthday celebration arranged the very next morning,” says his nephew, Varadarajan.
Uncle Rajen is frail and hard of hearing but apparently still well enough to take the 3 1/2 -hour flight on his own. It’s unclear what happened next, but instead of taking the flight to San Francisco, Uncle Rajen ended up on a Frontier Airlines flight to Las Vegas.
“When he landed in Las Vegas, he was very confused,” recalls Varadarajan.
Uncle Rajen called his nephew, who urged him to get in line at the customer service counter and ask for help. A Frontier representative offered to fly uncle Rajen to San Francisco six hours later.
But Varadarajan didn’t want his Uncle Rajen to wait that long. He booked him a one-way flight to San Francisco on another airline and figured he would ask Frontier for a refund.
“I do apologize again for this horrible experience”
Varadarajan sent a brief, polite email to Frontier through its website, asking for a $193 refund of his fare from Dallas to San Francisco.
Here’s Frontier’s answer.
I do apologize for the inconvenience that it had caused your uncle at the time of his travels. However yes sir it is the responsibility of the gate agent to make sure that the passengers are boarding the correct plane. I can’t say exactly why this mishap happened beside it being careless act that was performed. Nevertheless I do apologize again for this horrible experience that your uncle has to encounter at the time. If you have anymore questions please feel free to email me back. Regards, Laquita Customer Relations Specialist
How about a refund, Frontier Airlines?
But wait — Varadarajan had asked for his money back. What about that?
It turns out that even though Frontier sent Uncle Rajen’s luggage to San Francisco, it marked him as a “no show” for the flight. And it refused to refund the fare.
Varadarajan was furious. He wrote back:
It is sad that you considered my uncle a “no-show.” He boarded the wrong flight because he is hard of hearing. His reservation also indicated “deaf/hard-of-hearing” but no one helped him. For the safety of everyone on board, isn’t it the responsibility of the gate staff to ensure that a passenger does not board the wrong flight?
Varadarajan repeatedly asked to get connected with someone at Frontier who handles security.
Is Frontier’s final offer enough?
Finally, he heard from Frontier again with a final offer.
I do apologize for the inconvenience that it had caused your uncle at the time of his travels. However I didn’t consider you uncle as a no show. However if he didn’t board the plane he will automatically be tagged as a no show even though he boarded the wrong flight. Unfortunately I am unable to connect you to the security or tsa you may have to call the airport and ask to speak with a tsa manager. I do apologize again for the inconvenience that it has caused you at the time. If you have anymore questions please feel free to email me back. Regards, Laquita Customer Relations Specialist Frontier Airlines
So that’s it — a $198 flight credit is the best Frontier can do.
Varadarajan is deeply unhappy with that resolution.
“We will never fly Frontier again,” he told me. “Please help me get a refund.”
How often do airlines lose passengers?
Airlines lose passengers from time to time. The most recent case happened this summer, when American Airlines reportedly lost a 12-year-old passenger, Kimber Gilliam, flying as an unaccompanied minor from Chattanooga to Miami. Her mother had paid an extra $150 for a chaperone, but when Kimber exited the aircraft, American Airlines simply waved her through. She wandered around the airport before her father found her.
In 2014, Southwest Airlines reportedly left an 88-year-old cancer patient traveling from Louisville to Atlanta on the aircraft in Chicago while he was waiting for a wheelchair. The customer, who had Parkinson’s disease and was suffering from myoclonic seizures, finally stood up and struggled to the front of the aircraft, where he got the attention of a crewmember.
“They forgot me,” he said.
There are no records on the number of lost passengers like Uncle Rajen. Airlines are under no obligation to report these incidents to authorities, and so they don’t. However, the incident rate seems to be low based on the number of cases reported in the media. And if you take a few precautions, you can ensure that it never happens to you or a loved one.
What are Frontier Airlines’ reviews?
Frontier Airlines has some of the worst reviews of any domestic airline — and that’s putting it mildly. From “worst service ever” on Skytrax to Trustpilot’s one-star rating, the write-ups are nothing if not consistent — everyone loves to hate Frontier.
But there’s another side to Frontier’s dismal customer service reviews. The airline wants to be a “low cost” leader, offering low fares but then adding other extras (like food, drinks and luggage) as options. Many passengers still expect a certain level of service that they had before airline deregulation, and that’s something Frontier rejects.
That may explain why it draws relatively few consumer complaints (it ranked sixth for complaints by the Transportation Department last year). Most passengers know they should not expect much.
How to reach Frontier Airlines customer service
Frontier Airlines isn’t one of the most responsive airlines when it comes to customer service. The airline strongly prefers using a web-based chat interface since it can automate parts of the conversations. But it also offers the option of reaching out via Facebook, Twitter or email.
There are other ways to reach people at Frontier Airlines customer service. We publish the names, numbers and email addresses of the customer care managers on this site.
But the airline can be very responsive in certain circumstances. Last year, the CEO reached out to us after he read our executive contact page. My team and I were happy to hear from him and were grateful for the feedback. And the closer contact with the executive team led to several consumer wins, including this case involving a passenger whose sister died before she could take a flight.
It’s safe to say that Frontier, despite its reputation as a carrier that nickels and dimes its passengers, strives to be better than average in the customer service department.
Which is why this case really shocked my advocacy team.
How to avoid getting lost by your airline
In every lost-passenger case we’ve handled, there’s an obvious — and 100 percent effective — way to avoid it. Whether it’s a minor, a special-needs passenger, or a senior citizen, you can prevent a passenger loss by asking a chaperone to accompany the passenger.
Had Varadarajan flown to Dallas to pick up Uncle Rajen, I wouldn’t be writing this story — and he wouldn’t be asking for a $198 refund. Now, I realize that isn’t always possible. So here are a few other choices:
Hire a chaperone
Some legacy carriers have formal programs that allow you to pay extra to fly an unaccompanied minor on a nonstop flight. For example, American Airlines charges $150 per flight and allows kids as young as 5 to fly without a parent or guardian. This usually works.
Call special services
Sometimes, a chaperone is too much. The passenger just needs a little help with boarding and finding the next gate. Delta Air Lines has one of the best-developed special service departments to help customers with special needs. Be sure to contact the airline a week before your flight to make all necessary arrangements.
Work with a travel agent who can help
There’s a community of travel advisors who specialize in helping people with disabilities and special needs. One great resource is the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality, which has a helpful list of resources on its site. If you work with an expert, you’re far less likely to get lost.
What went wrong with Uncle Rajen?
I wanted to know what went wrong with Uncle Rajen’s flight. How could a 90-year-old passenger get past all that airline security and board the wrong flight? Airlines like Frontier have numerous controls in place to ensure passengers don’t board a flight without a valid ticket. It is entirely unclear how Uncle Rajen slipped past the gate agents and ended up in the wrong city.
I asked Frontier about his case.
“In reviewing this matter, our customer care team has agreed to provide a refund in the amount of $193.98, which was the amount paid for the original flight on Frontier,” a representative told me. “A check is being requested and will be mailed to the address provided. It may take several weeks for the refund check to arrive but it is now in progress.”
Wait, wait. But how did Uncle Rajen get through?
“Do you have any idea how a 90-year-old passenger could board the wrong flight?” I asked.
To which Frontier said … nothing.
And that leaves us to speculate. How did a 90-year-old get through Frontier’s security? Did they find the problem and fix it, or just sweep it under the rug?
These are questions you should especially ask if you’re thinking of sending an elderly relative on a Frontier flight. The airline doesn’t even accept unaccompanied minors, and it clearly didn’t do right by Uncle Rajen until our team got involved. Although the odds of you losing your aunt, uncle, grandfather or grandmother are very low, they are not zero.
And based on the non-response I got from Frontier when I asked for an explanation, maybe they’re still trying to figure out what happened to Uncle Rajen.