I got an email from Spirit Airlines telling me that they had a “big announcement.” Okay, it wasn’t that big, but it was nice to know that, by next summer, Spirit will be joining the 21st century and adding Wi-Fi onboard.
Is Spirit Getting Better?
Spirit Airlines, an ultra-low cost carrier,* is never going to be known as a luxury experience. And that’s good to them. They want to be known as the cheapest airline that can get you safely and on-time from A to B. Under former CEO Ben Baldanza, the airline transitioned to its current status as a ULCC. It based its marketing campaign around “no publicity is bad publicity” and once accidentally replied to all on a customer complaint, saying “Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.” And you can get away with that as long as your fleet does its job.
The problem is, sometimes they couldn’t even do that. Spirit tried to keep costs as low as possible by minimizing staffing and spare planes, meaning that the minute that they ran into trouble, they had no back-up. By the summer of 2015, the airline was only getting 50% of its flights to their destinations on-time and realized that you can only tick off your passengers for so long. Mr. Baldanza was pushed out and replaced by Bob Fornaro.
Bob Fornaro was used to operating an airline on a shoestring budget, having formerly been the CEO of low cost carrier AirTran, which the previous CEO, Joe Leonard, had once told me was “one snowstorm away from bankruptcy.” Mr. Fornaro immediately put some money back into the airline, eliminated the tawdry marketing campaigns and stopped worrying about growth at the expense of operations. By the beginning of this year, the airline had climbed back into the middle of the rankings for on-time percentages.
The implementation of Wi-Fi is a clear positive. Yes, of course you will pay for it, but it’s at least a customer-service friendly move, one that the airline wouldn’t have spent any capital on a few years ago.
I’m not sure that Spirit will ever be anyone’s first choice for any reason other than price or necessity, and it’s got a long way to go, but the airline is, at least, starting to care.
*Beginner’s Hint: An ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC) is one that sells you a ticket and nothing else. Want a seat assignment? It costs extra. Using the overhead compartment? Extra. Can of Coke? Pull out your wallet. The ticket prices are low, but you can end up paying big bucks in other ways.
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