As pilots, we know that if you run an airplane too hard, for too long, it breaks. Wishful thinking will not make an airplane run harder or longer or faster. The same holds true for airlines.
– Capt. Tracy Smith, chairperson for Frontier pilot group
Depending on your hometown airport, you may or may not have noticed Frontier’s massive growth over the last few years. Frontier ordered 134 new Airbus aircraft in November 2017 – tripling the airline’s size over the next decade. Just last month, Frontier announced 15 new routes and welcomed a new class of flight attendants.
The dramatic growth has led to unprecedented fleet utilization, with Frontier operating its aircraft for 14.5 hours per day, according to the Frontier pilot group. The airline claims it’s fleet utilization is 14.2 hours per day – which is still quite high compared to U.S. airline industry average of 9.72 hours per day for narrowbody aircraft.
The Frontier pilot group sent a July 2 communication warning management’s cost cuts will lead to operational challenges:
Our management devised a plan that has pushed the operation too hard and has cut costs and necessary infrastructure too deeply. Based on our own analysis, we’re concerned that serious operational challenges will get even worse in the near future.
For passengers, that means more delays and canceled flights.
Frontier’s (Very) Low Pilot Wages
The pilot group also warns industry-low wages are hurting recruiting efforts and barely keeping up with current demand with new routes. According to the pilot group, Frontier has among the lowest pay rates in the country, earning 40 percent less than pilots flying similar narrowbody airplanes.
According to Glassdoor, Frontier’s average total pay for pilots is $68K (note the small sample size). A first-year Airbus A319 captain at Spirit Airlines makes about $86K and a first-year Allegiant pilot makes over $100K according to aviation career websites.
It’s impossible to make exact comparisons in pilot salaries (compensation structures differ among airlines), but regardless of how you slice the numbers, Frontier’s pilot salaries are lower than even some of the regional carriers.
Frontier’s Pilots Voted Unanimously to Authorize a Strike
Pilots voted unanimously to authorize a strike if the airline cannot reach a deal with its pilots. Last December, about 350 pilots marched in front of Denver’s city hall to raise public awareness on pay conditions. Pilots are still under a 10-year “bankruptcy-era” contract signed in 2011.
Here’s what the group has to say about wages: