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.