HUSTLE ON THE FRONTIER
Until five years ago, Denver-based Frontier Airlines chugged along as a small feeder line, earning minuscule profits and quite a bit of ill will with an ancient DC-3 fleet that was forever running late. Since then, Frontier has picked up speed enough to become a leader among the nation's 13 local service carriers. In 1966, it not only earned the largest profit ($1,790,000) among the regionals but also showed the greatest increase (58%) among all U.S. scheduled airlines in revenue passenger miles—the number of paying customers multiplied by distance flown.
Cut-Rate Array. Frontier has climbed to that altitude partly by filling seats with the wildest array of discount air fares in the U.S. To the annoyance of its competitors, Frontier offers 13 kinds of cut-rate tickets, and during the first five months of this year they brought in 37% of the line's record $10.5 million passenger revenues. There are discounts for the military, clergy, Government employees, youths, skiers, families (wives may take separate flights) and any group of ten or more. One of the most successful is Frontier's halffare standby plan, under which any passenger who cannot be accommodated on the first flight to his destination is guaranteed a seat on the next one. Even bus companies wince as Frontier boasts that "a bus ticket and $5" will buy a jet ride from Denver to St. Louis or Tucson or Billings, Mont.
Most airlines restrict their promotional fares to slack hours or days, but almost all of Frontier's are effective seven days a week. That even includes a bargain vacation fare, available to persons who present documents to show that they live outside Frontier's territory. For $100, such tourists can fly with Frontier for 30 days as far and as often as they like.
All this is the handiwork of Frontier's ambitious $80,000-a-year president, Lewis W. Dymond, 47. The crew-cut Dymond, whom strangers have often mistaken for ex-Astronaut John Glenn, took charge at Frontier in 1962 after a 24-year career at National Airlines, during which time he rose from a $50-a-month plane washer and apprentice mechanic to vice president for operations, engineering and maintenance. At Frontier, he has got rid of most of its piston-engine planes in favor of 21 propjet Convair 580s and five Boeing tri-jet 727s. "We are lean and hungry," says Dymond, "but we have a 'go' attitude. That made National Airlines and it is making Frontier."
An End to Subsidy? Dymond's appetite goes well beyond Frontier's present realm. Meeting in Denver's Brown Palace Hotel, the company's stockholders last week approved the stock-swap acquisition of Fort Worth's Central Airlines, a smaller regional carrier that operates in the triangle-shaped area between Denver, Dallas and St. Louis. The combined lines would crisscross 14 Mountain, Midwest and Southwest states, serving a 7,465-mile route system, fourth longest (after United, Eastern and Delta) among U.S. domestic airlines. With the merger, Dymond expects Frontier to become the first of the regionals able to dispense with federal subsidy.
Frontier last week also pressed its Civil Aeronautics Board application to expand west to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego. If granted, the new routes would not only give Frontier more lucrative long hauls but also lift it into the ranks of the major trunk carriers. As far as Dymond is concerned, that is only a start. He may never win CAB approval, but in recent months he has peppered the board with proposals for everything from through service between Miami and San Francisco to a run south to Mexico City and Acapulco. Grandiose as all that seems, it is at least in tune with the CAB's current view that the trunk lines are thriving enough to share some of their profitable long routes with the locals.
-TIME MAGAZINE, Friday, Aug. 04, 1967