Miramar-based Spirit Airlines has done much in the last 18 months to improve its record and reputation for customer service. But the recent flight cancellations have brought the airlines past reputation back into the forefront.
Spirit’s bad day yesterday culminated with a public statement of criticism from Senator Bill Nelson delivered on the senate floor:
“What happened at Fort Lauderdale was unacceptable and deeply unfair to the affected passengers, the overwhelmed airline employees, and local law enforcement. It was unfair,” (more of Senator Nelson’s statement in the below video)
Video from Senator Bill Nelson’s office
While Spirit’s Ultra Low Cost Carrier (ULCC) business model has gradually gained favor among leisure travelers both domestically between major business centers and has allowed the airline to remain competitive on international routes from Fort Lauderdale against aggressive opposition from JetBlue, the airline hasn’t given much to the pilots union represented by ALPA in negotiations that have now been going on for about two years. The assumption among many on the outside is that the ULCC model is wholly dependent on keeping labor costs under control – or worse yet below market standards.
Spirit has a large cost advantage over its competitors particularly when compared to heavily-unionized Southwest Airlines, one of the world’s largest carriers who recently overtook Spirit as Fort Lauderdale’s second largest carrier (JetBlue is first). But Spirit’s reputation for flight delays, cancellations and poor service has long been prohibitive. As the airline has sought in the last two years to improve its reputation for customer service in the face of competition from all quarters (Spirit flies very few unique routes that do not have competition from either full service airlines, or low-cost ones with better reputations), the last few days have threatened to return Spirit to being among the least admired companies in the country.
It’s critical Spirit get this dispute about pay with its pilots behind it. The airline has aggressively opened new routes between tier 1 markets throughout the country in the last few years in addition to continuing to maintain a large presence to Latin America from Fort Lauderdale. While Spirit’s ULCC and a la carte pricing model might fit the budgets of many travelers, at a time when the airline industry in this country is suffering a massive crisis for poor public service (thanks to United and Delta), Spirit cannot afford to fall back into the rut in terms of customer relations it once had. Solving the labor crisis is the potentially the most important step the airline can take at this point to move forward.