Spirit Airlines CEO Explains What You Get When You Fly on a Budget Airline

No screens. Less legroom. Lots of complaints.

Spirit A319-3The average consumer wants to get things on the cheap, but doesn’t always know what exactly that means. On its face, spending less money is always preferable. But when you actually experience the budget option, it can be disappointing.

That’s exactly what Spirit Airlines is running up against. With the cost of air travel increasing, flyers are looking for a deal. Their eyes are drawn immediately to the low price tag. But then they take their flight and they’re looking for more.

A couple of weeks ago, a story ran in The Dallas Morning News that included a stat from the US Public Interest Group showing that Spirit has the “highest rate of consumer complaints among US airlines.”

Rather than get angry and defensive (at least not publicly), Spirit’s CEO Ben Baldanza decided that the problem could be a failure to communicate. After all, over the past five years, eight out of 100,000 customers have complained, leaving 99,992 people who didn’t. He decided to respond with an explanation.

Knowing that price is the biggest consideration for consumers, that’s what Spirit sells itself on. (They have a $9 fare club!) Baldanza writes:

Offering our low fares requires doing some things that some people complain about – more seats on our planes with a little less legroom, no Wi-Fi or video screens, and no refunds without insurance; however, these reduce costs which gives our customers the lowest fares in the industry. Judging by the number of customers on our planes and repeat customer rate, most people like this tradeoff.”

Baldanza is convinced that its the company’s “unbundled, a la carte” model that throws some people off. So one of the major goals, he says, is to teach people “how to fly on Spirit while keeping more money in their pockets.” Interesting. So it’s not the product that needs very much alteration, but the approach to it. If people know what they’re getting and see the value of that low-cost thing, Baldanza is banking there will be fewer complaints.

This is a creative way to respond. You don’t want to jump at offering a higher fare because you will alienate the core Spirit customer. And reminding customers what attracted them to the airline in the first place will take some of the wind out of their desire to complain.

With long legs, I need to choose the option that’s not going to give me deep vein thrombosis. But knowing that this is an option for a short flight is useful information. Understanding that I’ll need to take a walk up the aisle to stretch and bring a book since there are no screens or Wifi will make the trip a good one.

[Image via Spirit.com; h/t Business Insider]