Our first and hopefully not final Frontier flight

The price was shocking: $285 for two round-trip tickets from Long Island to Orlando, Florida for Christmas. At this late date, every other airline was nearly $400 or more for one ticket! The last straw was when I realized that United, the cheapest “normal” option, was now charging for carry-on bags in Economy.

There’s always a catch – and there was a catch or two, including a new airport even further away than usual – but why not? Every other airline is charging a-la-carte these days. I figured for half the price it was worth a shot.

Costs

Here’s the cost breakdown for the full round-trip:

Airfare: $285 ($142.50 x 2)
Carry-on: $70 ($35 x 2)
LIRR to Ronkonkoma: $55 ($13.75 x 4 one-way off-peak fares)
Taxi to/from airport: $20 ($5 x 4)
Total: $430

Frontier Airlines?

Originally founded as a regional airline out of Denver, Frontier is an ultra-low cost airline that flies to over 50 destinations across the US and several other neighboring countries. The airline runs flights back-to-back without any spare airplanes, pilots, or time, which we found out the hard way.

It’s part of the new wave of charge-for-everything airlines and on top of its low base fee it charges for carry-ons (in addition to checked bags). Its seats, from our experience, resemble picnic chairs and are non-reclinable and without any seat-back entertainment.

It was cheap and safe, though read on for the details.

The trip

The biggest difference between the usual JFK departure is the time spent on LIRR and cost of tickets, though with hourly service to Ronkonkoma and additional service during rush-hour, it wasn’t an inconvenience.

Departing on the 3:55pm off-peak train from Penn Station, we arrived to Ronkonkoma, which is adjacent to MacArthur / Islip Airport by 5:30. Taxi-shuttles wait at the station exit to ferry passengers to the airport terminal for $5 a head. A seamless transfer really, even better than the JFK AirTrain.

By this point we were an hour past JFK, but given that we usually budget an hour to get there and $10-15 for a peak ticket on LIRR and AirTrain, this trip wasn’t much longer or more expensive.

We were at the significantly less congested security checkpoint by 5:45pm. By now you’ll notice that most of our travel “success” stories, this one included, involve skipping security or customs at JFK.

The bad

The first message arrived to us while on the train to the airport: our 7:15 flight was now delayed until 8:35. Not the best, but ok. By the time we got to the gate, they were expecting a 9:30 departure. Once we boarded the plane, we sat for another hour before takeoff as they fixed the lavatory and filled out paperwork.

Total flight time: 2 hours 20 minutes. Total delay: 3 hours 15 minutes.

Upon arrival in Orlando, possibly due to the unplanned 1am arrival, our plane was at some obscure and far-away gate that took a bus and a shuttle train to reach the main terminal.

The return

Returning from Orlando to Islip, we arrived to the airport, hustled through a daunting security line in 30 minutes, and arrived to our gate for an on-time departure.

That is, for Frontier, on-time is an hour late. We waited in the plane for an hour while a faulty overhead bin lock was secured with packing tape and the requisite paperwork was filled out.

Arriving to Islip, we caught a taxi and made the 9:11pm train back to Penn Station with time to spare. Ronkonkoma has hourly train service, even on nights and weekends, which beats pretty much everything except the A train, plus it’s nicer than the subway.

Conclusion

Frontier got us to our destination cheaply and safely, though not at the same level of comfort or predictability as really any other carrier we’ve flown, low-cost carriers included. It was fine for the short hop to Florida, and made sense for the savings alone.

In the end, Frontier even apologized to us for the 3-hour delay by sending us each a $50 travel voucher. The catch is, we have to use it on Frontier!

We’ll give it another chance, but we won’t use the airline for any cases in which we have to be comfortable for a long time, catch a connection, or be on time for anything, e.g. our “extreme getaway” flight to Barbados that we did on JetBlue.

Norwegian Airlines Post-Mortem / Review

I wrote this after our trip to Europe and forgot to post it until now.We had a full-fare experience at a discount-fare price on Norwegian and I hope you will too.

Norwegian Air competes on price and their planes are new, plus your seat still reclines. Your biggest hassle will be the ticket line prior to departure and checked bag fees.

Prior to this trip we didn’t quite know what to expect with Norwegian Airlines, which is the first budget carrier to enter the trans-Atlantic market. We were pleasantly surprised.

For $530 total, per person, we booked two one-way direct tickets in mid-September, an 11pm red-eye from JFK to Copenhagen and a Sunday afternoon return flight from London to JFK.

Having flown RyanAir, I was expecting the worst: strict carry-on weight and size limits, seats that don’t recline, and usurous prices for food and drink. This did not come to pass, but getting to the plane was a struggle.

Ever see one of those photos from the Great Depression of a run on the bank? That’s what the Norwegian check-in line looked like at JFK.

Apparently both online ticketing and self-service kiosks are unavailable at JFK, forcing everyone, even those with carry-on bags only, to check in the old-fashioned way: with a desk agent. Arriving 2 1/4 hours before our flight turned out to be just enough to keep us from seriously considering whether we would miss our flight entirely.

Either you’ll have the situation we faced on a Friday night, or it could be clear sailing. Plan for 3 hours. You have been warned.

Once we got to the front of the line, we sailed through. They weigh your carry-on to see that its under the 10kg (22lb) limit, but you can bring a second piece of hand luggage (e.g. a small backpack or laptop bag). They charge around $50 each way for checked luggage, which includes a meal. We skipped this extra charge by packing light.

Once on the plane, the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is roomy, with huge carry-on bins, high ceilings, and air quality technology that is supposed to reduce jet lag. The only downside is the constant mood lighting in the aisles prevents the cabin from being dark enough, so bring a blindfold like a dork if you plan to sleep. Also bring a snack and a water bottle to save on snacks.

Each seat has a touchscreen display with free movies, games, and TV shows. Color me impressed.

On the way back from London Gatwick online check-in was still not available but we were able to check in with no line via the self-service kiosk. Ticketing and security at Gatwick are efficient and secure, no wonder the British love queueing.

All in all, a positive experience that we would repeat again with a bit extra time on the outbound.