7 Hard Truths About Spirit Airlines, from Its CEO Ben Baldanza

by  Tommy Burson | Aug 20, 2014
Spirit Airlines airplane
Spirit Airlines airplane / Boarding1Now/iStock

We've written extensively about Spirit Airlines, the no-frills carrier known for rock-bottom base fares and hefty fees for pretty much anything beyond one's airplane seat. It's most loved by those who travel simply and look for the cheapest way to get from point A to point B -- and loathed by those who expect a certain standard of services.

To help travelers better understand the brand and why it operates the way it does, Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza recently took on the harsh critics of Reddit in an Ask Me Anything online interview, in which the website’s users asked the CEO questions about the airline, the travel industry, and more. Here are what we think are some of the most important takeaways you should know:

1. If you want cheap base fares, you're going to pay for extras.
"Some people love us because we save them a lot of money when they travel. Others get frustrated because, even though they like the low fare, they don't necessarily understand what it takes to offer that low fare," Baldanza writes. "So we get some comments about bag charges, assigned seats, insurance, etc. -- but those things help keep the fare low. Our total price is on average less than other airlines for the same routes."

2. Going green costs money -- but will save more in the long run.
Baldanza claims that Spirit is greener than other airlines. "We burn less fuel per seat mile. We keep our costs low and we pass those savings on to customers."

3. Even less comfortable seats are a reality of the future.
Spirit isn't alone in scrunching seat pitch while offering a premium, roomier section at an additional cost. Baldanza says, "We can have the lowest fares when we put the most seats on the plane. Removing seats would force us to raise fares, so we won't do it. That said, customers who want more legroom can buy the Big Front Seat."

4. Reclining functions might become a thing of the past. 
Reddit user dcsportshero asked about charging for reclining seats, but Baldanza writes, "We're moving away from seats that recline. Our new seats are lighter weight and [have] fewer parts so they break less."

5. You're always paying for extras anyway, whether you know it or not.
One of the biggest goals the company will be working on, Baldanza says, is to increase transparency about fees -- carry-ons and seat selection charges being among the most popular complaints -- on OTAs and external sites, so that all relevant fees are laid out the way they are on Spirit's sites. Plus, he points out, "There is no such thing as 'free' anything on an airline. You either you pay for it separately or you pay for it in your ticket price." (Note: Spirit passengers don't have to pay for a "personal item" that can fit under the seat in front of them.)

6. Cutting costs doesn't mean trivializing safety.
"We are held to the same standards as all other airlines in the U.S., which include regular inspections and oversight by the FAA," Baldanza says. "Also, we're in the leading pack of airlines in deploying SMS -- the safety management system -- that will soon be mandated by the FAA"

7. Limited freebies could be in the works...but not unless they come cheaply.
While Spirit doesn't currently offer any inflight entertainment, Baldanza writes, "We will offer Wi-Fi if, and only if, we can do it without having to raise our fares to cover the costs." As with TVs and movies, part of the concern is adding weight -- and therefore fuel requirements -- to the aircrafts.

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