Topic of the Week: How Important Should Operational Performance Be for Spirit?

Operations, Spirit

At the Boyd conference this week, Spirit gave a long presentation about its efforts to educate people about its unbundled strategy and why it’s good. I buy that, but other than a bullet point talking about how people value “reliable” service, not once did the airline mention its operational woes. June was awful with half of its flights being delayed, so I had to ask the question publicly. What does Spirit consider to be reliable? The answer was the same I’d heard before. June was a really bad month due to a variety of factors, and they’re getting better. They value running on time less than they do simply operating a flight. So while others may cancel, Spirit won’t, and that means more delays. Ok fine. But when I last looked, Spirit was still running a third of its flights late in August with 1.7 percent of flights canceled. That’s not good.

What do you think? If you do (or would) fly Spirit, do operational issues mean you’ll book away or is price all that matters? And if you don’t fly Spirit, would having a better operation make you change your mind?

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19 comments on “Topic of the Week: How Important Should Operational Performance Be for Spirit?

  1. The route I ever seem to fly Spirit on is IAH-MSY, and last time it was pretty badly delayed. The delay was a weather issue, but was made worse by the fact that they only had 3 or 4 gates, so when our flight got there it had to wait another 45 minutes for a gate. Still, for $16 (with no ancillaries on that trip) I’d do it again. I guess you get what you pay for…

  2. My last few Spirit flights have been early AM ones on purpose. Being on-time is pretty important since I am usually trying to cram as much as I can into my travels. I love Spirit, but I will stick to AM flights before the performance falls apart throughout the day

  3. spirit needs to be thought of as a vacation airline, more like the charter airlines you in Canada and the uk. Since their schedule is usually one or two flights a day a cancellation can mean days before you can be reaccommodated. In that light I prefer a long delay to cancelation as a passenger. just another unwritten compromise you make flying a ULCC. still they could go a long way by doing a better job keeping their customers informed at the gate with information and with updates both electronically and at the gate.

    1. Sign up for thier email notifications.

      I got about a dozen while waiting for a 30min delayed flight out of LAX.

  4. I will not fly Spirit. I book away from them. I can always find a suitable alternative from Los Angeles that is only $30-50 more expensive than spirit (before all the spirit fees) so I book away from them. My reasons are the history of minimal to non-existent customer service during IROPs which seem to be pretty common. I vote with my wallet.

  5. If I was going somewhere and had to make connections, I wouldn’t use them. If it was a simple point to point and time wasn’t an issue I may use them if the price was really lower then everyone else.

    But if you do use them and the delay goes on for hours and hours, that would cause people to think twice about using them again.

  6. I fly NK between MSP-ORD often, but not for business. I have low expectations of arrival or departing on time. Especially late in the day out of ORD.

    NK get you there, but is is not reliable in term of relative on time.

  7. I do not fly Spirit but I will say on-time reliability is a big deal. While being delayed on a vacation is upsetting but usually something I can weather, the same for a business flight can ruin the entire trip. If Spirit has any desire to be a ULCC for the business world they need to make reliability a priority.

  8. There’s price, and there’s value. Sprint may be admirably cheap, but when I feel like I’m getting so little for my money in terms of customer service or performance, it still feels like I’ve wasted money. As another ULCC, Frontier seems to be balancing the price-versus-service equation a *little* bit better as of late—Things fell apart for them earlier this year, but the last few flights I’ve had on them out of DEN have been pleasant and perfectly on-time. There’s definitely a divide between their outsourced ground/gate staff and the people on the plane whose paychecks come from the home office, however.

    As much as I may loathe Southwest’s cattle-call and their over-the-top marketing, they continue to nail value. They haven’t been the cheapest in years, but I have experienced example after example where when trouble hit, their customer service saved the day. I’d so rather pay more for that then save a few bucks flying Sprint and feeling like it’s Lord Of The Flies when something goes wrong. Even as an experienced, grizzled air traveler, it never ceases to amaze me how unprofessional and needlessly confrontational *everyone* I have ever dealt with at Sprint is. It’s like they go out of their way to teach their employees their customers are an annoyance to be barely tolerated. No thanks, not even for free. No value, no sale.

  9. Ditto with most of the above comments, especially Flying Frankfurter’s. My wife and have flown NK several times from ORD over the past 3 years, and each one has been delayed by at least 90 minutes. Every. Single. One. Probably like most other NK fliers, we picked these flights where we were flying for leisure trips and the price differential to the other airlines was at least, even with NK’s carry-on fees. But with each flight, the delays put us – along the people we were meeting upon arrival – in a fog of predictable uncertainty. That is, we expected the NK flight to be late, with a range of 60-150 minutes, and we were left to worry about the duration’s standard deviation (not kidding).

    Not only has my experience convinced me never to fly NK again (knock on wood), but it saddens me that NK may be tainting the purest version of the unbundled airfare. I think it’s a great business model in theory, and most other carriers seem to be doing a decent job with the more diluted, more common version of unbundling. But when your average air traveler thinks of the purest model, she thinks of NK, and is disgusted. Hard to blame her for feeling this way.

    1. Totally agree here—I think unbundled fares is a great idea, and ULCC’s have a place as a leisure airline in the same way Delta, etc. are oriented toward business travels. Sprint’s problem isn’t its model, its cultural and corporate. There is nothing about charging less that means you also need to be extraordinarily bad at what you do. I don’t expect middle-east-airline-level-luxury and pampering from a ULCC, but there are certain basic business standards that aren’t being met. That the market isn’t pummeling them for it is astounding to me. People get what they deserve, I suppose.

      1. Spirit corporate culture is smug. I know I will never fly on them as they are today. And I agree with the above…I really cannot understand how they are doing so well. All I hear and read about is how ridiculously awful flying with this airline is. I think the vast majority of people pay no mind and really aren’t clear what they are getting into. Not me. NEVER. Same with Frontier. NEVER. I wan’t to get where I’m going with as much ease as is possible.

  10. I’d just like to know what percentage of flights is delayed over 60 minutes delayed versus just over 15.

    I personally consider anything arriving within 30 minutes of the scheduled arrival time to be good enough to be considered on time. Its when things start getting over 60 minutes that it starts to become a problem..

    That being said, how focused on connections is Spirit? Thats really where there can become a problem.

  11. I agree with the general consensus. I think ULCC’s have a role to fill, but I prefer to book somebody with a more robust network and better service if things get messed up.

    Of course, the irony is that I’m typing this from London, having got here on La Compagnie. So I guess I’m not always consistent…

  12. I just flew Spirit recently from Ft. Lauderdale to Tampa – the flight had about an hour delay due to weather in Chicago – it got to Boston late but they turned it remarkably fast.

    I paid for Big Front Seat – no carry-on, just my backpack – for $46. Crew on board were great, and so was the gate staff.

    And for the record, I’m Gold Medallion and Alaska MVP Gold 75k. But the cost of “loyalty” to one of those airlines was well over $100 and would force me to deal with Miami. Spirit is OK if you know what you are getting into.

  13. In the legacy world, every employee has the axiom ” every minute we are late costs _____ dollars/£/€/¥.” pounded into their heads from Day One. Since NK is not a traditional hub & spoke network carrier do delays have a lesser impact on RASM?

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