DENVER -- A whistleblower says Frontier Airlines is lying when it says no workers walked off the job during the weekend snowstorm leading to an operational meltdown that left countless passengers and baggage stranded at Denver International Airport this week.
The employee, whose identity is being protected, works for Simplicity USA, the vendor in charge of ramp and baggage operations for Frontier.
"There was only 12 of us at most that stayed for the evening shift," said the worker, referring to Friday night into Saturday when DIA received an unexpected 8 inches of snow.
The employee said Simplicity USA had recently implemented a "freeze" policy to keep workers on shift an extra two hours if weather conditions demanded it.
But the whistleblower said employees from two overlapping shifts bailed at 10:30 p.m. Friday instead of staying longer as management demanded.
"They didn't stay. They just left. We're talking over 12 probably 15 people," the worker said.
He said the reasons varied.
"Public transportation at the airport, the last bus leaves at 11:30 p.m. so if you don`t catch that one there's not really a ride home for you," the worker said.
The employee also said some of his co-workers worried the two-hour "freeze" would last longer than two hours and were increasingly frustrated by the snowy working conditions.
"We had problems with the equipment getting stuck in the snow constantly because we had no crew to plow any of the jetways or anything," the worker said. "The other airlines like Southwest, when we drive past them they have enclosed vehicles. Frontier doesn't have a windshield on their vehicles. Most of the time we don't even have emergency brakes that work."
On Tuesday, Frontier admitted it should have precanceled more flights before the storm hit.
The whistleblower said that would've helped because so many delayed airplanes began arriving at DIA at the same time.
"Had four planes on the runway at one time, and you had to bounce between every gate trying to flip them as quick as you could. Definitely impossible," the worker said.
Frontier didn't respond when asked why the airline insisted for days no workers walked off the job. Frontier spokesman Jim Faulkner said it was Simplicity's responsibility to answer that question.
Frontier acknowledges it provides the equipment Simplicity workers use but maintains the equipment is adequate. But Faulkner said it "doesn't work as well in cold weather."
As for snowplows, Faulkner said Frontier plowed what it could.
"We had aircraft on the gates so it was hard to clear the entire gate area until aircraft were moved," he said.
"Due to the extreme weather conditions over the weekend, we experienced disruptions to our operations despite the fact that many of our employees worked very long hours in difficult conditions," Simplicity said in a statement. "We deeply regret any inconvenience to Frontier’s customers.
"We have implemented a review to understand all aspects of what happened including evaluating Frontier's equipment and our own staffing procedures to ensure that we are better prepared in the future to handle severe weather events which exceed what was originally forecast."