RIP, Spirit – America’s Most Hated Airline

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Spirit Airlines, the low-cost airline that’s thrown thousands of late-night jokes and laments on social media, could finally do what its haters wanted: go away forever.

After a failed merger attempt with Frontier Airlines, Spirit said it had agreed to be acquired by JetBlue Airways, with the deal expected to close no later than the first half of 2024, pending regulatory approval. shareholders and regulatory authorities. Both airlines underscored their commitment to competing with major US carriers with low fares, while emphasizing the customer service JetBlue is known for.

If the plan is approved, the iconic yellow Spirit jets will be transformed into JetBlue planes, the snacks to buy will give way to free chips and cookies and the long list of fees will turn into… a shorter list of fees. This is the airline industry in the 21st century, after all.

Spirit’s eventual demise is a fate the airline’s critics could embrace.

“Spirit will always have a place in my heart,” said John Paul Rollert, an airline business practices columnist and Spirit guest who teaches leadership and ethics courses at the University of Chicago. “And it gives heartburn.”

Your favorite airline buys your least favorite airline

Before nearly all airlines started charging for checked baggage, before legacy carriers created rudimentary “economy base” fares, Spirit took inspiration from low-cost European airline Ryanair and rolled out a model at very low prices for consumers.

It has shamelessly removed free benefits or even basic amenities that most travelers have come to expect, introducing fees to check bags, carry bags, choose seats, or have a boarding pass printed by a flight attendant. the airport. Snacks and drinks – even water – come at a cost. Spirit promised low base fares in exchange, but surprised some travelers. And he filled planes full of seats to maximize the number of people he could carry, thus limiting legroom.

While Spirit wasn’t the only small airline with such a model, it has become synonymous with practicality – for better or for worse.

“They were certainly intrepid explorers of the frontiers of misery in friendly skies,” said Rollert, whose mother was a flight attendant. “But in all honesty, the other side of that is that they provided a way to make flying, I think overall, cheaper. They put a price on our misery, and for a lot of people, this price seems to be quite good.

At the same time, Spirit drew widespread attention to provocative passenger promotions that recounted scandals. The company offered a sale inspired by disgraced politician Anthony Weiner, offers referencing an alleged prostitution scandal among Secret Service agents and an advertisement featuring a woman smeared in suntan oil following the tide Gulf of Mexico Black Sea in 2010 that urged travelers to “check our beaches for oil.

The media wrote of the outrage that followed the promos, giving Spirit what it was looking for: a free press.

End of merger talks between Spirit and Frontier

Mike Boyd, president of aviation consultancy Boyd Group International, said the airline no longer needed to resort to such tactics.

“Today, Spirit is a much more refined airline,” he said. The JetBlue acquisition is a decision to poach Spirit for its planes and pilots, not its business model, Boyd said.

New management in 2016 made it a priority to improve operations – long an issue – and shifted gears on the eyebrow-raising advertising strategy. Spirit rose from last place in on-time performance among US carriers large enough to report the data in 2016 to fourth two years later.

There have always been problems; Spirit experienced meltdowns last summer that resulted in days of cancellations and delays. And in May, the most recent month for which statistics are available, only around 69% of flights arrived on time, putting Spirit eighth out of 10.

Still, said Brett Snyder, founder and author of airline industry site Cranky Flier, many carriers are facing disruption, and Spirit “had a fantastic operation.”

“The spirit has a heritage,” he said. “They fly cheaper than a lot of other airlines in a lot of markets and, you know, in some cases they have a better alternative. In some cases, they are the only ones.

JetBlue agrees to buy Spirit for $3.8 billion

Snyder said if the deal to be acquired by JetBlue is approved, customer reaction is likely to vary.

“There will be people who will be happy to spit on their graves if they go there,” he said. “But there will be people they will miss.”

One group in particular, he said, got a lot out of Spirit: “The late-night comedy hosts are going to miss it.”

Snyder thinks others will seize the opportunity to fill the gaps left by Spirit in the ultra-low-cost space, especially competitors Allegiant Air and Frontier.

And Boyd doesn’t expect travelers to become nostalgic for Spirit as they do for other defunct airlines like Pan Am, which symbolize a more glamorous era of air travel.

“There was no glamor at all,” he said.

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