The concern is below. And Spirit gave a very detailed response, also below.
Let’s begin with the reader’s emailed comment about Palm Beach Post coverage of the South Florida-based carrier:
“You allowed Spirit to hide behind the excuse of their ‘model,’ completely ignoring Spirit’s real, deeply concerning issues. The extra charges, the leg room, these are trivial issues, nuisances, not real structural problems. Here is the issue every potential Spirit passenger needs to understand about Spirit Airlines:
Unlike any other major U.S. airline, they don’t have agreements with other carriers to get you to your destination in those instances in which Spirit can’t. This becomes a major issue for passengers when part of Spirit’s model means not having extra jets or personnel to bring into service when needed. The result of this is that travelers often find themselves on their day of travel with nothing more than a ticket refund or a promise to get them there in 3-4 days, when there is a Spirit flight with an open seat. Travelers frequently miss family events, business events, vacations, cruises or days at work because Spirit can’t — or won’t — get passengers to their promised and paid-for destinations. The only alternative most travelers have is buying day-of tickets on another airline at many hundreds of dollars per seat.
Every airline has only two real promises they need to keep: to deliver their passengers safely, and to get them to their destinations in a timely manner. Spirit regularly fails to meet this rather low bar. And that has nothing to do with carry-on luggage fees, leg room or impolite personnel. Spirit’s spokespeople prefer to focus on their more trivial issues. Gee, I wonder why . . . “
The Post asked Spirit about this. Here is the answer from director of communications Paul Berry, with minor editing:
“Here’s the deal . . . when a cancellation takes place it’s either because of a mechanical issue, a crew issue, an airport/TSA issue, or a weather issue. Weather and airport issues are treated differently than issues that are caused by the airline. To the flying customer they don’t really care. When their flight is canceled it sucks. Weather and airport issues, since it’s not the airlines fault, all airlines just put their customers on the next available flight of their airline. They do not put customers up in hotels for these issues. If they can’t get their customer on one of their own flights in 24 hours, they will put them on another airlines available flight – either by paying full fare or through a prearranged agreement. We do the same thing. If the problem is Spirit’s fault, (maintenance, crew availability) then we pay full fare for the next available seat on another airline, and if needed we will put them up in a hotel.
The fact of the matter is we have 12,500 flights a month. 98.4% of our flights are not cancelled. If you’re in the 1.6 % it is a horrible experience for the customers and the airline. If it’s a weather issue and all airlines at a particular airport are effected – nobody gets out. (The reader) likes to point out the news stories about Spirit where there were no other options after a weather event . . . which in reality is very few flights.
(The reader’s) point is correct that other airlines have more options to recover from a cancellations in a quicker and more efficient manner than Spirit. They have more aircraft, so they can have more daily flights on city pairs, and some airlines (not all) have agreements with other airlines to take passengers on flights that have been canceled. Here’s more detail than you probably need:
More aircraft than Spirit
(The reader’s) premise to his argument is that Spirit is considered a “major airline.” We shouldn’t be. Major airlines have hundreds of aircraft in their fleet. Example: American Airlines has more than 1,000 plus several hundred more in their regional fleets. Delta has 820 plus another couple hundred in their regional fleet. United 720 plus regional aircraft. Southwest has 700. Jet Blue 220. Spirit has 82. Those airlines have multiple spares around the country just in-case a flight cancels. Spirit has 2. If a flight cancels on other airlines they have more spares to recover quicker. So it’s unfair to put us in the same category as a “major airline” when they have up to 11 times more aircraft than we do. Those airlines have been around a lot longer than Spirit. Effectively Spirit has really been around since 2008 (with our currently business model). On a percentage basis, we’re bringing on more new aircraft than other airlines, but we still have a relatively small fleet.
More daily flights in their routes than Spirit
Since other airlines have more aircraft they can have more daily flights among their routes. Where other airlines might fly between two cities between five and ten times a day, if an earlier flight cancels, they can just put their customers on one of their later flights . . . if there is space available. And in cases where there is higher frequency, there is usually more seats available throughout the day, so it’s easier to accommodate their customers. At Spirit we have one, maybe two flights a day to most of our cities. Those flights (as almost all Spirit flights) are usually full two and three days out. So It’s virtually impossible to put 145 passengers from a canceled flight on future Spirit flights in a timely manner. By the way, on other airlines if it’s the last flight of the day that is canceled, it’s difficult to accommodate those passengers as well. The earliest and latest flights of a day – on all airlines – are generally full. So if you’re on a late flight with any airline and it’s canceled, it will likely be until the middle of the next day that you’ll be able to get out. Finally, high frequency means more open seats. More open seats mean higher fares for those who are actually in seats.
Other airlines have code-sharing agreements
He is totally correct here – but he believes Spirit doesn’t want these agreements because it costs money. That’s not true. Spirit wants and has pursued these agreements very aggressively, but the other airlines with high capacity don’t want us to participate. Why? It’s not their advantage. The first is, they can’t send their customers to Spirit’s flights because there is no room, so it doesn’t work from a partnership perspective. Second, there is no real revenue for them. When airlines have code-share agreements, it’s a revenue swap. If an American Flight cancels they’ll look to United, Alaska, and other partners. They’ll send the revenue from the American passenger ($200 – $500) to the airline that takes their passenger. It allows the helping airline to fill their plane and receive revenue. If other airlines had an revenue share agreement with us, the revenue they receive from Spirit would be between $50 – $100. Not worth it to them. Also, they know that we’re going to do whatever we can to accommodate our customers if the cancellation is a Spirit issue (maintenance, or crew issue). Why would they want to get our relatively small revenue when they know we’ll pay full price (usually $500 – $700) to put our customers on their flights. Spirit pays a lot of money to accommodate our customers in situations like this. Again, we’d love to have these agreements with other airlines, as would JetBlue. We continue to try to find ways to accommodate our customers. “
Here is the company’s policy, he said:
Non-Spirit cancellation – out of Spirit’s control Weather/airport ATC/TSA cancellation:
Spirit will put a customers on the next available Spirit seat. If a Spirit seat isn’t available and the customer needs to get to their destination that day, we will give them a a credit for future travel or refund of the unused portion of their flight so they can make arrangements with other airlines.
Spirit controlled issue (Maintenance or crew):
We will put the customer on the next Spirit flight. If a seat is not available we may explore other options including paying for them to fly on another airline.