This past week, Spirit Airlines handed out some bad news following some good news following some very bad news. Kind of a PR sandwich with delicious honey ham between two slices of moldy, stale bread. Let me explain.
Spirit Airlines is a very profitable “ultra-low cost carrier,” with an a la carte business model. I believe a la carte is French for “$50 baked potato.” Like their main ultra-low cost competitor, Allegiant Air (which I have flown to and from the Mesa “Cattle Manure Capital” Airport outside of Phoenix), their customers purchase a relatively cheap one-way fare and everything else is extra. I mean everything else. You want a seat not crammed behind the lavatory folding door: extra. You want a seat with upholstery instead of exposed styrofoam egg crates: five bucks. You want peanuts: extra. You want salted peanuts: credit card, please. You want water: pay up. You want a bloody mary: what do you have in collateral? You want to check a bag: of course, it’ll cost you more than shipping your suitcase via FedEx. As it turns out, this is a profitable model for Spirit Airlines: they make ~40% of their revenues from add-on fees, and they banked $23 million in profit in Q1 this year.
Well, last week they announced that they are raising their carry-on bag fee—you read that right: carry-on bag fee—to $100 each way for the unsuspecting or unprepared passenger who dares to bring their backpack with them through security. (They’ll generously discount the fee to $35 or $50, if you book it and pay in advance.) This raises all kinds of questions for me: 1) WTF?, 2) is a purse a carry-on?, 3) is a murse a carry-on?, 4) is a fly-fishing vest full of incidental items a carry-on?, 4) what is the fundamental difference between a purse and a backpack: the orientation of the straps?, 5) if I bring all of my belongings: laptop, toiletries, etc. in my arms like I’m hauling wood, will I be charged?
The audacity of this carry-on charge has some consumer groups up in arms. I see it as part of an immoral slippery slope to nudist airlines. Others think it makes perfectly logical sense.
Fortunately for Spirit, the news cycle brought some good PR, too. The CEO of Spirit refunded the $179 ticket of a Florida man dying of cancer.
Unfortunately for Spirit, it took them being raked over the coals in public to give the guy his money back.
The best, worst, and most telling section of the original story from the Tampa Bay Times is this gem:
“But if he actually dies before his flight, Spirit would be happy to give him some money back. Or he can get a credit for another ticket. That, he points out, won’t do him any good.
‘What are they going to do?’ he asked. ‘Fly my casket up to Atlantic City?’”