Delayed Frontier Airlines Flight To San Diego Ignored NOTAM, Had To Divert To Las Vegas

On January 22, Frontier Airlines flight 551 from Denver to San Diego diverted to Las Vegas. It should never have taken off from Denver.

The planned 10:04 p.m. departure faced several delays. The inbound aircraft arrived late, and then the airline dealt with a mechanical issue, resulting in the flight leaving 2 hours and 19 minutes late.

San Diego airport has an overnight departure curfew but that doesn’t prevent late flights from landing. However the airport had closed the runway 1 a.m. to 6 a.m., and this was widely known to airlines via NOTAM.

So the plane took off, but pilots realized they couldn’t land after 1 a.m. – so they diverted to Las Vegas, arriving there around 1:30 a.m. local time. Apparently neither Frontier operations nor the flight’s pilots reviewed the relevant NOTAMS prior to departure – as legally required.

One passenger on board the aircraft reports that passengers were stuck in the terminal. The airline had posted a 5 a.m. departure for the flight to continue to San Diego, just three and a half hours later and not enough time to get to a hotel, check in, sleep and return to the airport (this was ultimately delayed until 6:50 a.m.).

They indicated that no food or other accommodation was provided on site. And, of course, the airline has eliminated the ability for customers to reach them by phone.

While some passengers were apparently issued $50 future travel credit (compensation useful only in the event they were willing to buy tickets from the airline again – and likely pay charges to the fee-based carrier), no meal vouchers were provided. The travel credits expire in 90 days.

Frontier has committed to providing meals or meal vouchers when a controllable flight delay results in passengers waiting 3 hours or more, so this incident would appear to violate the airline’s customer service plan as well.

The flight eventually landed in San Diego at 7:30 a.m. the day following departure. I reached out to Frontier Airlines on Tuesday and will update if they respond.

When the FAA’s NOTAM system failed two weeks ago, they shut down the air transportation system nationwide, believing updates to the latest notices were crucial to safety. For this Frontier flight, it appears that NOTAMs were available – and simply not reviewed prior to departure.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Why is ATC giving clearance to an airport without an operating runway at the aircrafts arrival time?

  2. Jim, ATC is a big complicated system and clearly there isn’t that level of cross-checking. It would be good if someone along the way noticed this situation, starting with the airline’s dispatcher, but nobody did. The responsibility was on the captain’s shoulders, though that said the NOTAM system is such a horrific mess it’s not a surprise something like this slipped through.

  3. ChrisInNY yeah you would think but as DrRichard says they may be receiving hundreds of NOTAMs with a release. Of course the PIC and dispatcher hold responsibility, just seems strange that ATC would drop it as well. Curious if perhaps the crew and dispatcher thought there would be a short extension as the aircraft landed at LAS at 122am, but was already past LAS and closer to SAN when it diverted.

  4. You can get clearances to do all kinds of stupid and/or illegal things. As long as you’re not crashing (or violating national security), ATC isn’t the system that’s designed to deal with it.

  5. Often times, curfews and runway closures arent always a hard time. There can frequently be extensions, exemptions or delayed runway closures to accomodate late flights. These things take time to work out and airlines cant wait until its too late to ask and negotiate so flights get launched with the hope that there is some flexibility.

    I would not blame the captain or dispatcher unless you have all the information they had. If anything, the problem is with airports being too flexible most days and not giving advanced notice for nights when they dont have any flexibility. If you play ball too often it becomes expected every time.

  6. It’s no big deal but they could be embedded in 100 other notams. Unfortunately the system is archaic and the highest priority ones do not necessarily show up first. It was built for a system 40 or 50 years ago. It would be better if there was a filtering system for time and date of arrival so that only the applicable notams show up but this is not the case.

  7. You couldn’t pay me to get on a Frontier flight or put someone I care about on one of their planes
    H### no
    No customer service call center no sale
    That’s a lifetime promise

  8. Besides having a viable aircraft, commercial flag carriers require three things: A dispatcher/flight controller, a qualified flight crew and a qualified cabin crew. All three share responsibilities for their area of control BUT…the ultimate responsibility rests on the flight crew. Besides NOTAMS, our company has “special pages” that lists recurring specific requirements for a specific airport (like the curfew at KSAN). That stack of folded paper printed at the gate only includes NOTAMS currently in effect for the entire route. Some that information MAY supersede our “special pages”. In this case, it appears that the flight crew didn’t read the ALL NOTAMS. As for the airline, they failed in their “contract of carriage” and certainly with respect to their “customer service” or obvious lack thereof! While all airlines suffer from poor customer service at times, you get what you pay for! Sometimes the cheapest flight isn’t always the best flight.

  9. There have been many instances of Frontier Airlines not honoring their black-and-white customer service plan which says meal vouchers for flights delayed 3+ hours, and hotel night for flights delayed overnight. Their rude and uncaring agents simply refuse to provide the vouchers no matter what their plan says. Given how often this is happening, I’d expect small claims and class action suits to be in place as they are not honoring their terms of service. Meal vouchers & hotel vouchers are a lot of money that they are simply refusing to honor.

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