Spirit Airlines has become one of the success stories of American aviation and continues its expansion on the back of excellent performance.
Spirit Cancellation Numbers Down, Performance Up
In an email this week, the king of the “bare fare”, CEO Ted Christie, touted the carrier’s performance in the last quarter. He highlighted the relatively low airline cancellation rate (flight completion) and on-time ranking.
“We continue to deliver great operational results. In the first quarter, we completed 98.6% of our flights and 85.3% of Spirit flights arrived on time, earning us 4th place among all domestic carriers. ” -Ted Christie
Without major storm events that usually cause an airline to cancel a flight, the 98.6% completion rate is less impressive. However, US carriers have more scheduled flights in 2021 than they did at peak travel in 2019. It’s not a lack of passengers or flights that’s contributing to Spirit Airlines cancellation figures, it appears to be a quality performance.
While it’s laudable that Spirit has finished with such an excellent on-time percentage, the fact that the carrier finished fourth highlights that many airlines are outperforming traditional on-time rates. Hawaiian almost uniformly owns the top spot due to favorable weather conditions in nearly every market for which they fly. That outlier puts Spirit as one of the better-managed three airlines in the country.
Strong performance in early 2021 has led to an announcement that more staff and equipment are needed to satisfy future travel requirements and successfully operate Spirit Airlines flights.
“Our continued growth also means we are adding new Spirit Family Members. By the end of the year, we’ll add more than 400 Pilots and 800 Flight Attendants.” – Ted Christie
Expansion Into New Markets
Spirit Airlines’ Kansas City, MO expansion is one of the more exciting to me, personally. It demonstrates Spirit’s commitment to exploring new markets away from the huge population centers as well as toward the center of the country. Kansas City in specific only adds a few daily scheduled departures but shows an opportunity for the airport (and the region) to prove that it is a market for Spirit. I have family not far from Kansas City and it’s hard to attract new airlines to the midwest. More options and lower prices make it more likely they will fly more often and that’s good for everyone.
“We also continue to add to our all-Airbus fleet, which will reach 160 planes later this month. This growth gives you More Go to new destinations including Louisville, St. Louis, Pensacola, Milwaukee and Puerto Vallarta. We’re excited to bring our new planes and low fares to these terrific cities.” – Ted Christie
It’s less difficult to fill a plane from just about anywhere to Las Vegas, Orlando, or Fort Lauderdale than it is from Kansas City to Pittsburgh so while the new flights may be easily filled, it’s not expanding options in Kansas City in terms of map dots. However, this was how Southwest expanded originally before it became the networked carrier it is today. I’m hopeful that the same will be true for Spirit in smaller markets as well, creating a new Spirit effect.
Impact From Pandemic
While other carriers with larger intercontinental markets have not seen the same return to travel across the network, domestic travel has accelerated substantially for all carriers. The relics of the pandemic like refundable tickets, the removal of cancellation fees for nonrefundable flight bookings, and the remaining travel credits from prior trips are beginning to fade away. It won’t be long before the only full refund a traveler can get from a booked trip will be within 24 hours of booking.
For Spirit, some of these elements were new. The airline had never before operated in an environment in which refund requests for a change in plans were something they’d have to offer or honor. Now, however, Spirit Airlines has learned that they can not only do this but do it successfully.
I don’t believe that this revelation will mean they stop charging to print boarding passes at a ticket counter, cancel charges for checked bags, nor start giving away their Big Front Seat, however, the carrier has proved that they can do this and remain profitable.
It also demonstrates that Spirit’s focus on value pricing, flying to sunny destinations, and a new and improved loyalty program have the airline in one of the best positions following the pandemic and lockdown. More flyers were introduced to Spirit as their prior carrier reduced flights.
I’m an unlikely yet unabashed Spirit fan. The carrier’s positive performance during and following the pandemic affirms my affection toward the carrier. Expansion into broader markets creates pricing pressure for competing airlines and that’s good for travelers.
What do you think? Why has Spirit been so successful? Will its success translate to greater competition?