I have never had the delight of flying Spirit Airlines in the USA. The one time, I turned up for a Spirit flight, they cancelled it! In the mould of Ryanair, Spirit combines low fares and profitability and customer complaints.
Over the last five years, Spirit has consistently received three times more complaints than any other airline and the number of complaints against the airline kept rising in that period. In a report compiled by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund based on Department of Transport statistics, Spirit managed to increase its customer complaints from 6.7 per 100,000 passengers in 2009 to 9.4 in 2013. A rise of almost 50%.
Passengers on Spirit companied mostly about:
- Flight problems (Cancellations, Delays, and Missed Connections)
- Reservation, ticketing and boarding issues
- Baggage issues
They were least likely to complain about:
- Problems with animals (United had consistently more complaints)
- Treatment of people with disability
- Fares (no surprises there but they had ten times more complaints than Alaskan airlines)
- Advertising (but had almost as many complaints as United which is a much bigger carrier)
Since 2008, the Department of Transportation has fined Spirit $565,000 in five violations of consumer protection laws including oversales, luggage and deceptive advertising.
Disgruntled users have even set up a twitter handle against the carrier: @hatespiritair.
Spirit Airlines founded in 1993 is based in headquartered in Florida and flies across the USA, Caribbean, Mexico, and Latin America from Atlantic City, Chicago-O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Ft. Lauderdale, Las Vegas and Myrtle Beach. In 200, it transitioned to “ultra low cost carrier”. It sells ultra cheaper fares than other carriers and then extracts top dollar for every amenity: boarding passes, carry on luggage, checked in luggage, seat assignments, snacks and water.
In addition, Spirit crams more passengers onto their planes in non reclining seats (thats actually a plus for me!). Their Airbus 320 has 178 seats (4 with 36″ seat pitch and 174 with 28″) compared with Jetblue’s 150 seats (42 with 38″ pitch and 108 with 34″ pitch). The airline says: “By adding seats and reducing seat pitch slightly, we can reduce our fares and be more environmentally-friendly”
There are two ways that Spirit are winning:
- Growth- It plans to almost triple its 54-jet fleet by 2021. It already one of the youngest fleets in the USA
The question is are there limits to this growth? Will the consumer horror stories outweigh the appeal of their ultra low fares? As one customer review at Skytrax says: “On Sunday, March 30, 2014 my husband and I endured the worst experience we have dealt with regarding any airline. From the moment we got into the line to proceed to the service counter where we engaged with the rudest of service reps, to the poor representation or should I say lack of representation when I called to check on a charge for our carry-on luggage and additional charge for so called extra poundage on our check-in bag… Never, fly again with them.”
Interestingly on my one experience with Spirit, I had no problem getting moved to another flight and the staff member at the airport was a delight to interact with!
What about you? Flown Spirit? Horror stories or joy?