Spirit Airlines is a lightning rod for bad media reports but their reputation is undeserved.
Passenger Behavior Doesn’t Reflect the Airline
A lot of readers have made negative comments about the carrier and those that fly Spirit Airlines. Many deride the process for booking a Spirit Airlines ticket, smaller tray tables, they even complain about the flight attendants and the rest of the cabin crew. Many suggest that instead of saving money on the ticket price, they’d rather avoid what they have determined to be the worst airline in America. But they are so very wrong.
It’s important to avoid connecting the bad behavior of customers with the service provider. Spirit Airlines employees absorb a lot of abuse. Look no further than a recent post from Matthew that features a video of passengers throwing things and inflicting physical harm on Spirit employees. One “stooge” even stole a Spirit employee’s phone. That’s not Spirit’s fault.
Some will claim that these sorts of problems occur at Spirit because of the clientele that they draw, in the same way that fast food joints have more customer problems than five-star restaurants. There’s some merit to that argument, but unfortunately in the airline space, the disparity is less. Spirit competes on mostly domestic flights and while the company has an extensive network in Latin America, that’s not where the problems seem to be. It’s American customers flying domestically that cause disturbances. But if customer issues don’t happen on international routes, then it can’t be a Spirit problem, right?
Other airlines have problem customers too. American Airlines had this passenger removed for inappropriately touching another passenger. Delta passengers are guilty of attacking airline staff too. United, who hasn’t had a passenger physically dragged off a plane in a while now, has passengers that storm the cockpit door. Southwest passengers get in fights on airplanes too. Frontier has a problem with passengers committing sexual assault, but worse, some allege they don’t do enough about it. Alaska Airlines isn’t immune either. On JetBlue it’s not the Emotional Support Animals that bite, it’s the paying customers. Allegiant customers throw fists onboard like the others.
Did I leave anyone out?
Every carrier in the US has these problems and they are more frequent than they should be. And while one could consider this a distinctly US problem, here’s a case in China and another(there are many of these just like in the US.) It happens in Europe (Brussels, Portugal, the UK, and others.) These incidents happen on seemingly every carrier in every region of the world, the airline in which bad behavior occurs is moot.
There’s a Lot to Like
Spirit is more punctual than any other discount carrier in the US, good for fifth overall (Pre-COVID-19) and briefly took over as the country’s leader in on-time rankings in October of 2018. Spirit is also safe. In fact, the carrier has never had a fatality.
The airline has the youngest fleet in the US (until Breeze starts up with all-new A220 aircraft.) That could be one of the reasons why the airline is so punctual, as well as so safe. But there’s another benefit to Spirit’s “fit fleet” as they call it. The airline is able to take advantage of better fuel economy which makes aircraft cheaper to operate but also better for the environment than other carriers.
Spirit also unbundles their product, a feature some have come to loathe. But compare Spirit to Basic Economy on United Airlines for example. Both carriers will charge for carry-ons in excess of a personal item, checked luggage for domestic flights, and food onboard.
United gives its customers access to streaming content to customer devices and a water bottle (Spirit doesn’t) but it comes at a cost, even if the price is the same for the flights. United will likely require a connection for flights that do not originate or terminate in its hub, Spirit offers nonstop routes outside of hub stations. Basic economy customers cannot purchase faster boarding and will not earn miles nor status on tickets – Spirit passengers retain these abilities.
But unbundling allows passengers to pay for what they want and not what they don’t. For example, Southwest is more expensive than the competition 60% of the time but includes two free checked bags whether the customer needs it or not. Why would a customer prefer to pay more for something they don’t use?
In addition to low-priced flights, Spirit also builds in a convenience fee to its fares for those purchased online, however, if customers purchase tickets at the airport, they can save between $12-28/per passenger/flight. Customers can apply that savings to purchasing the same size seat as an American, Delta, or United first-class seat but for as little as $25 more – even the cheapest upgrades on the majors are more expensive.
Those that focus on the process to book a flight with Spirit may say that it seems like a constant upsell, but I would challenge them to try booking with United, American or Delta. Yes, your Spirit Airlines flight from Fort Lauderdale to Las Vegas will ask if you will prompt you to pay for a seat assignment, offer you an upgrade, book your luggage in advance and before it’s over, offer car rentals and hotels. But so do the others. In fact, the only thing that the others do not charge for that Spirit does is printing your boarding pass at the airport, but even that is often waived and who doesn’t use an app for that anyway? They are forgetting that all carriers have moved to this model, not just Spirit, and while they may not like the process, that process is nearly universal with the exception of Southwest.
For what it’s worth, the carrier has also been strict from the start regarding wearing masks on planes to fight COVID-19. The majors have faltered on this policy.
Spirit Customers Are Not Who Most Think They Are
I personally hold top tier status on two US flag carriers yet I fly Spirit 20-30 times annually. Why? Because I don’t want to fly a connection and double my transit time for the same or more money. It’s not just for those who are inexperienced or casual flyers, it’s for those who value their time as much as they do their money.
Some fly Spirit due to low costs, but some are there for convenience. While it’s anecdotal, certainly, my seatmates are often those with second homes in warm locations. A landlord with more than 20 properties in two cities has sat next to me on a few flights we both frequent. On one flight we were competing to buy an onboard upgrade.
Passengers behave poorly on every airline, in every country. Attributing poor customer behavior to the airline and its employees they attack is incorrectly applying blame. Spirit’s bad reputation is undeserved. The carrier flies the newest equipment, safely and on-time to its destinations for some of the best prices in the US. Unbundling allows upgrades for tens of dollars and the company has been safety conscious through the Coronavirus crisis when others have not.
What do you think? Should passenger behavior be attributed to the carrier? Does Spirit have materially more incidents on a per seat basis than other carriers? At what point are passengers held accountable for their own behavior?