Frontier Airlines started its operations 30 years ago: a history

Frontier Airlines occupies a unique position in American aviation history.

Unlike most airlines, Frontier has a two-chapter story separated by a short intermission.

In the first chapter, which spanned from 1950 to 1986, Frontier made its way through the Rocky Mountains.

The second chapter, which began in 1994, continues to this day, with Frontier establishing itself as a major low-cost carrier.

Chapter One: Serving the Rockies (1950-1986)

Frontier Airlines started its operations 30 years ago: a history
Formulanone from Huntsville, United States, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Frontier’s roots date back to 1946 with the founding of Monarch Air Lines.

The merger with Challenger Airlines and Arizona Airways in 1950 officially launched Frontier Airlines.

Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, the airline focused on connecting cities in the Rocky Mountain region.

The fleet consisted mainly of propeller-driven Douglas DC-3s, which served 40 destinations in 1950.

The airline experienced steady growth throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1967, a major development occurred with the merger of Central Airlines, which further expanded Frontier’s network.

However, the aviation sector faced major challenges in the late 1970s as a result of deregulation.

Increased competition and economic downturn put pressure on Frontier.

In 1985, Frontier was acquired by People Express Airlines, a low-cost airline known for its innovative, no-nonsense approach.

Unfortunately, the merger turned out not to be a success.

People Express itself filed for bankruptcy the following year, dragging Frontier down with it.

On August 24, 1986, Frontier ceased operations, leaving a void in the sky over the Rockies.

Chapter Two: Rebirth as a Cheap Leader (1994–present)

Frontier Airlines started its operations 30 years ago: a history
Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Undeterred by the fate of the first Frontier, a group of former executives saw an opportunity.

In 1993 they launched a new Frontier Airlines, headquartered again in Denver.

This time the focus was clear: to become a low-cost airline with an emphasis on efficiency and affordability.

The new Frontier took to the skies in 1994 with just two Boeing 737s and began flights between Denver and North Dakota.

The strategy of offering low fares on key routes proved successful.

In 1999, the airline expanded its fleet with Airbus A318 and A319 jets and became the launch customer for the A318 in 2003.

Notably, Frontier switched to an all-Airbus fleet in 2005, a first for a major U.S. airline.

In the early 2000s, Frontier continued to grow.

To remain competitive, the airline has implemented cost-saving measures, such as charging extra fees for checked baggage and in-flight entertainment.

This strategy, while controversial, allowed Frontier to offer some of the lowest rates in the industry.

In 2006, Frontier further solidified its position by creating Frontier Airlines Holdings, a holding company that offered tax benefits.

The following decade brought further expansion.

In 2013, Indigo Partners, an investment firm specializing in low-cost airlines, acquired Frontier.

Tomás Del Coro from Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This move led to a fleet modernization program and the addition of new routes, particularly to Mexico and the Caribbean.

A merger with Spirit Airlines was proposed in 2016, but ultimately fell through.

Today, Frontier Airlines is still a major player in the low-cost airline market.

With an emphasis on fuel efficiency and streamlined operations, Frontier offers service to more than 100 destinations in the United States, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

The airline prides itself on affordability, allowing budget-conscious travelers to explore new destinations.

Looking forward

The future of Frontier Airlines looks bright.

The low-cost airline market continues to grow, and Frontier’s focus on efficiency and customer affordability positions this market well for continued success.

With a modern fleet and a commitment to innovation, Frontier Airlines is poised to remain a major player in the skies for years to come.

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