It’s been an ugly month for airlines, but Spirit Airlines may have PR award by cancelling a flight, leading to a battle royal at the gate. And they didn’t even charge extra to watch it!*
A Cancellation Leads to Chaos
Spirit Airlines, which was completing only 50% of its flights on time at one point, has improved its operations dramatically over the past two years. That doesn’t help, though, when the pilots, who are seeking a new contract, engage in a work slowdown. Spirit was forced to cancel hundreds of flights over the last week, leading to thousands of angry passengers.
But disappointment turned into outright chaos on Monday as passengers, who had been waiting for hours, stormed the counter, leading to an outright melee at FLL. The police were called and three passengers were
thrown over the top rope escorted from the premises. On the plus side, they didn’t kill Thumper.
As I said, it has not been a good month for the airlines. Spirit became the second airline to call the police in a public incident. Delta only threatened to call the police when a passenger refused to give up a seat,** while American simply got publicly shamed for a confrontation over a stroller.
Here’s the issue: On more than one occasion, I have argued that passengers need to lower their expectations for service levels. It’s unreasonable to expect to fly across the country for next to nothing while enjoy big seats, five-star meals and outstanding service.
But it’s not on overshoot to ask for some basic humanity on a plane. Spirit was ill-prepared for the number of customers that it had, despite the fact that the airline knew that a work slowdown was occurring. Delta was technically in the right for asking a passenger to leave the plane, but somebody had to know that threatening to call the police would show up on the internet. And employees need to learn to de-escalate a situation, rather than taunting a passenger, no matter how obnoxious the guy on the American flight was.
On a recent flight, I overheard a flight attendant telling a passenger that she only received one day of customer service training, with everything else dedicated to safety. Good, I’m glad that most of their time was focused on what to do in case of an emergency, but only a day on customer service? That’s barely enough to learn to point out where the lavatory is.
You reap what you sow, but if airlines continue to treat customers like self-loading freight, they will reap re-regulation, which won’t work out for anybody, company or customer. Ever met anyone who did not have a story about what an airline had done to them at one point in their life? Me neither. Airlines are the whipping boys for the media and politicians who are looking to boost their favorability ratings. Don’t make it easy for them to do so.
*Beginner’s Hint: Spirit Airlines is an ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC). ULCCs are a somewhat recent breed of airlines that let you purchase a seat, but only a seat. The cost is next to nothing, but they charge you for everything else, ranging from an actual seat assignment to early boarding to food to baggage, whether it’s carry-on or checked. Spirit generates almost 50% of its revenue from sources other than the actual ticket.
**In terms of the actual contract of carriage, Delta was in the right on this one. You lose your right to the seat if the ticketed passenger does not show up. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle the situation.
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