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Employees of the first Frontier Airlines stage 28th reunion

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Former Frontier flight attendants recall the good old days. Photo by Bob Schulman.

How close are the employees of your company? At the original Denver-based Frontier Airlines (1946-1986), they still get together once a year to talk about old times, who’s where now and who’s no longer with us. Some 270 ex-Frontier pilots, flight attendants, customer service and reservations agents, mechanics and other staffers held their 28th annual reunion this weekend – fittingly, at Denver’s Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum.

They had a lot to reminisce about. All told, their airline carried 87 million passengers 49 billion miles over its 40-year lifetime and earned the best safety record of any airline for that period. At its peak, Frontier's routes linked Denver to cities across the country including points like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Atlanta, plus major destinations in Mexico and Canada.

Frontier’s all-coach inflight service – from its extra legroom to its complimentary steak and lobster dinners (served with a bottle of Mateus wine, also on the cuff) -- is still a legend among veteran travelers.

“It's amazing how many employees show up for the reunion every year,” noted Carolyn Boller, one of the event's organizers, “although some of us are getting a little long in the tooth.” Boller, a former reservations agent for the airline, said there were 2,500 employees at the first reunion in 1987.

Among ex-employees at this year's get-together was Emily Warner, who became the first woman pilot for a U.S. airline when she joined Frontier in 1973 (and three years later became the industry's first female captain when she was elevated to that rank on Frontier).

Monarch of the western skies

Frontier, at first named Monarch Airlines, was one of two dozen “local service” airlines created by Uncle Sam in 1946 to handle a huge upswing in regional air travel in the roaring post-war economy.

Monarch changed its name to Frontier a few years later when it absorbed two of the other new kids on the block. Their combined routes – mostly short hops flown with war surplus DC-3 “gooneybirds” -- linked Denver to 40 cities in seven states.

Like the baby boomers, Frontier grew up over the next 25 years. It painted its colors on yet another airline in 1967, enlarged its route network to 94 cities in 26 states and swapped its smaller propeller planes for jets.

Frontier's golden era

In the early 70s, Frontier debuted its legendary operating philosophy: “Run on time, tell passengers the truth and give them better service than they expect from an airline.” From this came the 10-year-long “golden era” of Frontier, when its customers enjoyed the added legroom, the comp steak and lobster dinners and all the other perks they never expected from an airline.

The good times came to an end in the shockwaves of airline deregulation, when in Congress' zest to free the skies for competition it also unleashed the multi-billion-dollar clout of the big airlines against the little guys. Guess who won?

Frontier folded its wings on Aug. 24, 1986. At the time it had 4,750 employees and a fleet of 42 jets, including 38 Boeing 737s and four McDonnell Douglas MD-80s. It was serving 56 cities in 22 states.

Disclosure: The writer was a public relations executive of the original Frontier and is a retired vice president and co-founder of the “new” Frontier, launched in 1994.