By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus
Big news for Wyoming! Frontier Airlines merges with Spirit Airlines.
Once upon a time, this would have been big news. But lately, neither Frontier nor Spirit have had any flights in or out of the Cowboy State.
But it is still a big deal since that newly created airline is based out of Denver, just a stone’s throw from our capitol city. With the Denver airport so close to the Cowboy State, flying Frontier might be an obvious choice for a great many Wyoming fliers.
Both Frontier and Spirit are known as cheap, no-frills airlines. I call them the “lawn chair airlines” because the seats are small, hard and uncomfortable.
Do you want legroom? Sure, they will sell you a few more inches of space. Want to check your bags? Sure, for a price. Do you want to carry on a bag? No problem – just keep the credit card handy.
I am always amazed as how a low-price $69 fare on one of these cheap airlines can balloon up to $250, about the same as for a United or Southwest flight. Oh well.
Wyoming old-timers have lots of stories to tell about Frontier Airlines. It was the major airline for the Cowboy State for almost half a century. And with its current 24 years of being headquartered in neighboring Denver, proximity counts.
My history with Frontier goes back over 50 years. Our first trip to Wyoming was in August of 1970 and was on a huge Convair 580 powered by a prop jets, a combination propeller and jet engine.
Their routes were known as “milk runs” because, much like the neighborhood milkman who stopped by every house, the plane left Denver and seemingly stopped at Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Riverton, and on to Casper, Cody and Sheridan.
Their reservation system somehow kept track of passengers getting on and off at all the various destinations.
Folks back then complained about this service and yet it might have been the best air service in the history of the state. The planes were big, the seats were comfortable, there was even a friendly stewardess to shepherd people in and out of the plane at all those various stops.
Airline service to rural states like Wyoming was subsidized by the federal government. That went away with deregulation back in the 1980s and everything changed.
Before that happened, at one time, we could board a 737 jet for a once-daily flight from Riverton to Denver. It was super comfortable but not so reliable. If you missed your flight, you got in your car and drove to Denver.
The original Frontier was founded in 1950 and went out of business in 1986. A new airline was founded in 1994 and took the name Frontier. Their logo and tails featuring animals was a wonderful marketing ploy. This airline still had a tumultuous history until its owners made it into a cheap, no-frills airline in 2014.
Spirit, meanwhile, was founded in 1992 in Boston. In recent years, it emerged as a low-frills competitor to Frontier. It is very logical that they merged to form the country’s fifth largest airline behind Delta, America, United, and Southwest.
Wyoming has a big history with commercial airlines. United Airlines was originally based in Cheyenne. It was originally known as Boeing Air Transport, which was founded by William Boeing. He also founded the aircraft company that carried his name. As he bought more and more small airlines, they all came under the umbrella of United.
The first Boeing Air Transport flight that featured a stewardess landed in Cheyenne in 1930. Ultimately, United’s stewardess school was established in Cheyenne in 1947 and operated there for almost two decades.
The flight attendant school for United remained in Cheyenne for a long time after the airline moved on to Chicago. Wyoming suddenly became a magnet for attractive young women from across the country who wanted to fly the friendly skies.
There is a side door into the downtown Plains Hotel in Cheyenne called Peacock Plaza where men would ogle the stewardess school attendees who hung out there.
An excellent book about those early stewardess days is “Wyoming’s Friendly Skies: Training America’s First Stewardesses” by Starley Talbott and Michael Kassel.
Besides its obvious main topic, the book is a history of commercial aviation in the United States. Lots of good material there with most of it occurring in the Cowboy State.