The Bare Fare model - Photo: Spirit Airlines

The Bare Fare model – Photo: Spirit Airlines

A few times per week, I get emails from upset passengers. The vast majority of these emails come across as entitled people who’ve had a bad experience, but think the world owes them — big. Many times I am cc’d with dozens of other media outlets, in hopes that one of us will create a story: “BREAKING NEWS: Passenger’s Flight Delayed 30 Minutes Due to Weather.” As-if. Sadly, I do get emails like that.

Rarely I will get an email describing a true bad experience, where the airline messed up. In those cases I will take the time to either explain things to them or point them in a good direction to get assistance. Heck, I was getting so many poorly written emails that I even posted a story on how to write a good airline complaint letter.

Often, the emails are just plain entertaining and I want to share. Not only to give an insight of what airlines get on a daily basis, but also to really give these people what they want — publicity of their “horrid” treatment. Maybe even a reality check.

Every time I think about posting one of these emails, I chicken out. Yes, I am calling them out and making fun of them, and that is not very nice is it? Well… I am going to give this a try… and really, with this example, they clearly want to, “inform the masses about [Spirit’s] despicable treatment of its paying customers.” Alright Angry Passenger X (that’s obviously not their real name)… let me give you what you think you want. After, be sure to check out Spirit’s reply.

“Bare Fare” crop circle spotted in a soy field just north of the KC airport – Photo: Victor Lazo

“Bare Fare” crop circle spotted in a soy field just north of the KC airport – Photo: Victor Lazo

This is a direct copy/paste of an email I received recently addressed to Spirit’s CEO Ben Baldanza. This one was more interesting since I was one of only six people cc’d on this email (I think the record is 100). Some of the others were the CEOs of Alaska, United (Oscar, not Jeff), and Southwest. Alright… enjoy:

BONUS: FLIGHT REVIEW: EXPERIENCING SPIRIT’S “BARE FARE” MODEL FIRSTHAND

Mr. Baldanza,

I wanted to share with you the horrible experience I had with your airline and why I will never be flying Spirit again no matter how low your fares are.

First the extortion scheme, or as you call it the a la cart system. Now I understand looking at your business model that you are a discount airline and need to charge extra to compete with the big guys. That being said, my issue is with the lack of upfront disclosure on your process and policies at the time of booking. Having never flown your airline before I was quite shocked when I was asked to pay to carry on a bag as I have never been charged for this before. But it was the day before my flight, what could I do? Next I had to pay for our seats….wait I had already paid for our seats, but not if I wanted to sit by my fiancee her on her birthday trip I would have to pay extra to do so to avoid randomly seated. Again what was I going to do, I had no other options and no time to make other arrangements. So you say a la cart, I say extortion scam.

Next my flight times. First my return flight was pushed up about 3 hours. Well this conflicted with a very important appointment I had set in Chicago. The day of my flight my departing time was pushed back, also causing me to reschedule with little heads up. I am sure that with you being a CEO you are a very busy man and can understand how inconvenient it is to have pre set appointments changed at the last minute.

Your phone team (I will not call them customer service as they absolutely did not service their customer) was abysmal on top of that. They offered to move me to the next flight, well that went from 3PM to 12AM the next day, again not a viable solution as I had to work hence my evening flight to get me home in time. Then they offered to cancel my flight, and while this was by far the best option given to me (since I was now wondering where else your airline had chosen to cut costs, maybe the building and maintenance of the plane, or the training of the pilots) it would have cost me and extra $1400 to book with a different airline as it was just hours before my flight time. Again I felt extorted, terms were set and agreed upon when I purchased the ticket, your company changed them, and I was left to figure it out. Your supervisor team refused to even offer any sort of comp, not a free drink, not a free checked bag, not a big seat upgrade, nothing! They sounded very unsympathetic and melancholy as they read their scripted replies, “Sir we do understand and apologize for the inconvenience, however blah blah blah we are gonna screw you and what are you gonna do about it because you are stuck blah blah blah.”

Bottom line Mr. Baldanza is that in a competitive marketplace you need to take care of your customers. I have flown many airlines such as Alaska, United, and Southwest multiple times and although flight times have changed with them, they have always taken care of me somehow. Upon reading your reviews and numerous complaints I can clearly see that you do not. The internet is a powerful tool for marketing both positive and negative as is social media, but the biggest motivator is shame and I hope you as the CEO of this company feel ashamed of what you represent. You can rest assured that I will be posting this email to every travel blog, review site, airline agent, Facebook, twitter and wherever else I can inform the masses about your company’s despicable treatment of its paying customers.

Please do not misunderstand my intentions, I do not want a voucher, I do not want a free flight, I would not fly on Spirit again if it was free. I am writing you this to open your eyes and hope that you will change your policies, or at least start to do the right thing and disclose your misleading practices to your customers before they are stuck like I was.

Sincerely your former customer,

Angry Passenger X

A Spirit Airbus A319 - Photo: Spirit Airlines

A Spirit Airbus A319 – Photo: Spirit Airlines

So what do you think? Is this extortion? How would you respond to this email if you were the CEO of Spirit (and could say whatever you want)? Leave your thoughts in the comments. Please do.

A screen shot from Spirit's home page - Image: www.spirit.com

A screen shot from Spirit’s home page – Image: www.spirit.com

I was really tempted to just reply with this link: http://www.airlinereporter.com/2011/04/the-five-stages-of-flying-an-ultra-low-cost-carrier-epic-comic-style/. I would say this guy is at stage 4… and my guess he will soon be to stage 5.

READ SPIRIT AIRLINE’S REBUTTAL TO THIS EMAIL

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

http://www.airlinereporter.com
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17 Comments

Your suggested response to reply with your “five stages of flying…” is absolutely perfect!! I have never flown on a so-called “low-cost” airline, but I have friends who keep going back for more since they may save $1.98!!

JL Johnson

I’ve flown Spirit twice. Both times the experience was fine because I knew what I was getting into. Even with the fees they came in far below the competition. I don’t think I would want to fly them regularly but they are fine in an pinch. Ultra low fare carrier 101: Do your homework!

JL | AirlineReporter

Blaine Nickeson

As we showed with the screen shot in the story, Spirit makes it very clear who they are and what their business model is. I guess the risk is that people buy tickets through an online travel agency and never see Spirit’s website. My response to that is two-fold: #1 – “if the price seems too good to be true….” and #2 – you have some level of responsibility to be an informed consumer.

I think part of what makes Spirit’s model work is that they know they’re going to piss people off. And they know that the vast majority will keep coming back for the low fares (actual or perceived), no how many times their customers say “I’m never flying you again!” As a result, they really don’t care about these complaints. They don’t need to.

Frankly, “I’m never flying your airline again” is the emptiest threat in all of aviation. Leisure travelers are far too price sensitive in general to actually make good on that threat. Frequent fliers are generally too locked up with miles and points to be willing to change their loyalties, at least over a few incidents.

As for this passenger’s complaint, I see two issues. First, they don’t seem to have an understanding of how airline tickets and the attached terms and conditions really work. Flights get cancelled (and they curiously left out any mention of the cause for the last minute cancellation). A rebooking 9 hours later really isn’t that egregious. Sure it’s inconvenient, but hey, it happens.

The second issue is the passenger’s total failure to understand Spirit’s fee structure. I’m not talking about reading the contract of carriage here. Spirit is VERY upfront on their website about what is included and what carries an additional charge. In fact, that information is at the top of the page where you select your flights. It’s hard to miss, but if you do, that’s on you.

Jetranger

Ya’ haven’t flown any Airline, until ya’ Fly “Crash Airways”, their corporate motto’ is – we Never make it to your Destination !

however fares are cheap and its like Flying back in the 1960’s, lotta leg room, big over size comfy seats and the food is Fabulous !!

however ya’ have to pay for the Fuel mid flight or they run out, like in my case and we landed in a soybean field, 355 miles shy of the Runway and walk the rest of the way !

Flying is not an experience,, its an Adventure !!

Fly Crash Airways – we’ll never get you to where your goin’ !

Spirit and Allegiant are for the trash that don’t belong in the sky, and Allegiant is nothing more than Valujet without the cartoon plane on the tail (same CEO!). The people who spend that little on airfare don’t deserve to travel, and certainly shouldn’t spend the money on it. You buy a ticket on these guys, you deserve the experience. Stick with Amtrak or Greyhound if you’re that damned cheap…

I would say that is pretty elitist Eli. Just because you might be able to afford a ticket on an airline of your choosing, it doesn’t mean that everyone can.

I think it is great that there are cheaper options, to allow others to fly, who couldn’t 20 years ago, but I think that their expectations just need to match the cost of the fare.

David | AirlineReporter

If I were Mr. Baldanza I guess my response would be “NEXT!”.
I have flown many trips on Spirit and have had one problem. Imu wife and daughter were stuck in New Orleans and were told it would be 3 days until the next available flight. I called the 800 number – it took maybe 45 minutes to get thru- and asked for options. The refund was the best option. I took it the money was posted in minutes and I booked them on Southwest. It cost me another night in a hotel, and the $300 to get them home. It was the day before payday and I had to use the dreaded back up credit card. Was I pissed? Yes and no. It was what it was and the original airfare was incredibly cheap. Take the refund agains the new care and hotel and I was bumped up to what southwest would have charged in the firsts place. If the flight did not cancel, I would have been ahead. It’s like Las Vegas, eventually the house wins! Overall my years of Spirit enabled me to come out ahead. They are not much different than UAL or AA. Get over it!

It is always a gamble, taking any airline with less frequency. But airlines, like Spirit and Allegiant, fly to airports, that others do not and are the only option. So when things go wrong, it sometimes can be worse.

In the end, there are issues with every airline, one just has to figure how much of a gamble are they willing to make.

David | AirlineReporter

Alastair Long

On this side of the Pond, there doesn’t seem to be a day that goes by without the Daily Mail publishing some sob story about how heartless Ryanair or easyJet were in dealing with that family of four’s over-sized baggage or denying boarding to some indignant idiot whose passport went through the washing machine and is now unreadable. Airlines do screw up and it is annoying, but in this increasingly cake and eat it (i.e. “it’s always somebody else’s fault, I am a victim and want compensation now”) society, low cost airlines will always be a soft target. They still get bums on seats though, funny that.

Yup. People bitch and moan, but in the end fly them again, b/c (gasp) they typically can fly you a heck of a lot cheaper than most other airlines. Money talks.

David | AirlineReporter

Excellent post that summarizes the issue very well, and in particular the “entitlement” attitude of so many people these days. There is also a bit of droll irony in the last statement, since the word “bum” here in America is defined as: “somebody regarded as irresponsible or worthless.”

I don’t mind flying a ULCC when everything that can potentially negatively affect me is within my control and I can find out by doing my homework (I learned this lesson the hard way on AirAsia…). I don’t mind paying for carry on bags, drinks, seats, etc as long as I can work out the bottom line when I book the ticket.

What I do mind is when it affects their operations. I mind when an operator cannot reliably fly me from point A to point B on time – ever. I mind when I have to wait an hour and a half for my bags too arrive because they are too cheap to hire enough (outsourced) rampers. I mind when I have to teach a gate agent how to read a passport because he cannot find my date of birth on it, after waiting in line for an hour because he is the only one there.

A ULCC that has smooth operations, but openly charges for every amenity – that’s the ideal. And I have yet to find it. In the US anyway.

in europe we accept this, it´s the fare stupid!

Yea… I wish more Americans would get onboard with this. However, most of our flights are much longer, which I think ups the anger a bit.

People seem to still want the “golden age” Pan Am service, but want to pay Greyhound prices. Not sure why people understand “you get what you pay for” with so many other things, but with airlines, that concept is hard to understand.

David | AirlineReporter

Glen Towler

I wouldn’t dream of flying with them myself better to fly with a airline where there not so many hidden extras .I don’t think I could live with seat pitch on this airline but you do get what you pay for but using skyscanner does help with getting the best price and booking in advance helps too. I flew with United in July and I wish I hadn’t if only I had listened to people like Rob Mark from airplane geeks on how awful United are lets hope there new CEO can fix this airline I know he has had heart attack I hope he gets better soon

Brian Clark

If you want to fly Spirit, it seems that they are pretty clear and upfront with their rules. It’s a great deal if you can fit everything you want to travel with in a “personal item” sized bag. It’s certainly not a scam. I personally fly a lot, and prefer to hang out in a comfortable lounge, get free upgrades, get priority security screening, and get priority boarding. I pay slightly more for my tickets. I sometimes book a flight when there are cheaper options available so I can enjoy my elite status, and earn more precious elite qualifying miles. Spirit isn’t for me, but if I only flew once or twice a year, I might go for it.

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