Monday, August 1, 2016

The Amazing Uselessness of Spirit Airlines

It is unusual that I write a blog post complaining about a company. But in this case, my responsibility to my brother and to my country is clear. Spirit Airlines is a scourge on American society. Contemplate this recent adventure into absurdity.

On Friday, my brother, Andrew, was flying with Spirit Airlines from Boston to Baltimore. He was doing so in order to visit myself and my other brother. Unfortunately, his flight was delayed for 6 hours. Yet the way in which Spirit responded to that delay is why I'm complaining. Because over the 6 hours, Spirit constantly changed the delay time, offered three different excuses (weather, crew changeovers, and mechanical issues) and made no offer of compensation beyond $50 of coupons for their own airline. And today, exactly the same thing is happening on his return flight (NK414). The delay board keeps changing and now stands at just over 4 hours. And get this. The attendant at the Spirit desk doesn't even know the reason for the delay. To be sure, the delay may be weather related, but Spirit doesn't even care to let its customers know. Regardless, it means my brother will miss his train from Boston to his final destination. I will have to pay to put him up in a hotel.

But perhaps this disgusting service is no surprise. After all, with further research I've learned that Spirit is renowned for its astonishingly poor customer service and its impressive ability to offer creative, always changing excuses for its own incompetence. I am confident it does so in order to evade compensating passengers for its failures.

It needn't be this way. Contrast Spirit Airlines with Porter Airlines, a cheap flight focused Canadian airliner offering North American travel. I've traveled with Porter a few times, and while the airline has occasionally screwed up in terms of delays etc. its customer service representatives are polite and responsive. Additionally, the airline provides a lounge - and free drinks/snacks - at its Toronto City Airport. In these efforts, Porter balances cheap flights with good customer service. And that speaks to a broader truth about cheap airlines: offering cheap tickets and also maintaining aircraft, crews, and representatives is not easy. But it is possible. Variable costs in fuel are hard to predict, and for that reason Airlines must maximize profits when oil prices are low. But there is no excuse for pathetic customer service. Oh and note this... Spirit CEO Robert Fornaro holds a Masters from Harvard in City Planning. He clearly needs a refresher course.

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