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Spirit: Being Cheap Is Great, But Not Enough

Seat Assignment
(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Spirit Airlines is known for a lot of things, namely fees and quirky advertising, but one thing it isn’t known for is punctuality or service. According to the Department of Transportation, this past April, the most recent month for which data is available, only 73.4 percent of Spirit’s flights arrived on time—dead last among the airlines that report to the DOT. The average on-time rate for April was 84.5 percent. For 2015, the airline averaged a 69 percent on-time arrival rate. That’s bad.

But apparently Spirit is aware of this fact and, furthermore, seems intent on correcting it.

Aiming for Average? That’s the Spirit

“We’re No. 1 with price, and that creates a lot of benefits,” said CEO Bob Fornaro told Bloomberg News. “But it doesn’t mean you can’t be good with service.” He adds that improving on-time performance to roughly 80 percent, close to the industry average, is one of his top goals. Fornaro is targeting a gain of 5 percentage points in the on-time rate this summer, followed by another increase of 5 percentage points in the fall.

In addition, Fornaro told Bloomberg that his airline’s flight attendants could be “friendlier,” which he has encouraged, and do better to “explain to passengers how paying for a cup of soda keeps fares low.”

If all of this seems out of character for an airline that built its success on cheap fares and a devil-may-care attitude toward customer service, you’re right: It is.

Under previous CEO Ben Baldanza, the airline bet that customers would tolerate the rampant nickel-and-diming, poor performance, and spotty service  in exchange for unbeatably low fares. That worked well enough to build a substantial route network and develop well beyond being just a small, quirky low-cost carrier.

Lately, however, revenue is sliding and Fornaro, who took over after Baldanza abruptly left the carrier in January, clearly thinks his airline needs to shape up a little.

Readers, what do you think? If Spirit could offer a better customer experience, would you consider it for your next trip?

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