CLEVELAND — A Cleveland woman is putting Frontier Airlines on blast after she says they walked back on their safety measures and put her elderly mother and father at risk.
“I just want them to actually follow safety protocols and try to keep the customers safe, and actually just care about people instead of money,” Kristen Burns, of Cleveland, said.
Tuesday, Kristen Burns picked her mom, Virginia Kurtz, up from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, ready to welcome her home after many months away. She and her husband typically spend half the year in Florida at their home near Fort Myers, but were separated when he returned to Cleveland in early March for hip surgery. That surgery was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but he never returned to Florida.
Kurtz and her husband are both in their 70s and he is taking immune-suppressing medications after undergoing a heart transplant, so Burns says he's at high risk for developing complications from the virus. However, Burns says being isolated and taking care of herself eventually took a toll on Kurtz, so despite being worried, last month she booked a ticket home with Frontier Airlines.
“They told her that every other row would be blocked out, not even just the middle seats, but every other row to keep distancing, which is why she felt safe buying a ticket,” Burns said.
Then, when Kurtz called the night before the flight, she says the airline told her that only every middle seat would be blocked off, with temperature checks being given to every passenger. But she says none of that actually happened on the day of the flight.
“She said all of a sudden two people sitting next to her, in both seats and the middle seat. It was a couple. And she just panicked, she didn't know what to do. She was too scared to get off the plane because she thought she was going to get in trouble if she tried to leave,” Burns said. “She said that the flight was completely packed, every seat except for one was sold.”
In a statement to News 5, Frontier Airlines denies that the flight Kurtz was on was full and says it had 1/4 of its seats empty. They also say that until August 31, they’re blocking out 20 seats on every flight.
As previously mentioned, Frontier’s approach to blocking seats is as follows: we are currently blocking approximately 20 seats (the flight you’re inquiring about had more than double that amount empty) on every flight through Aug. 31, which are clearly visible on the seat map when booking at FlyFrontier.com. Customers looking to be seated next to an adjacent middle seat can simply purchase a seat assignment in a row with a blocked seat.
If a customer chooses not to fly, we would work with them to rebook their travel based upon our standard policies. However, before it gets to that point, we are happy to work with passengers to encourage spacing once onboard, if additional seats are available.
Again, we are required to keep an exact count of every passenger on each flight before departure. The flight from Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) on Tuesday (5/19) operated with approximately one-fourth of the seats empty.
As for temperature checks, the airline says that policy is set to kick in on June 1, despite airline workers telling Kurtz they would be done on her flight.
The health and safety of all passengers and team members is paramount at Frontier Airlines and we have taken diligent steps to protect everyone flying with us. On May 7 we announced temperature screenings for all passengers and team members, which will begin June 1, 2020. Frontier currently requires all passengers and team members to wear face coverings onboard and has elevated cleaning procedures, including the use of fogging disinfectant, which is effective up to 90 days. Additionally, hospital-grade HEPA air filters recirculate fresh air in the cabin every two to three minutes and capture more than 99.7% of virus particles.
“I just don't understand how Frontier could publicly say that they're doing these, you know safety protocols. And then also tell their customer and promise and reassure their customer that they're doing these safety protocols and then do absolutely none of them,” Burns said.
Art Nittskoff, the owner of Gamble America Travel in Solon, says while many airlines are implementing new policies they’re ultimately at their discretion to enforce them.
“The rules seem to change about every 10 minutes right now,” Nittskoff said. “Some of them have said that they've cut their capacity back by 20 or 30%. But there's no actual rule, it's just a guideline. So if they're full, then they're full and it's not like if you could say okay, they’re full I want my money back.”
Nittskoff says if you fly, just try to be as safe and clean as you can and if you run into issues with the airline, document the experience.
“When you talk to an airline or when you talk to anybody, a hotel, anything, write down who you talk to. I always ask what call center they're in so you know they could say, yeah I’m Dolores from Cincinnati and write down what time you talked to them,” Nittskoff said.
Frontier Airlines tells News 5 that if a customer doesn’t want to fly, they’ll work with them to re-book based on their standard policies. However, before going that route, the company says they’ll work with passengers on board to space out if extra seats are available.