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Should Spirit Airlines Be Cloned?

Should Spirit Airlines Be Cloned?

Spirit didn’t invent the ultra-low-cost carrier model. It simply followed the playbook established by Ryanair: Advertise rock-bottom prices, and charge passengers fees for everything.

The strategy has made Spirit both wildly profitable, and wildly unpopular. Its profit margins are the envy of most other airlines, even as it was the worst-rated carrier in Consumer Reports’ latest airline survey.

That glaring disconnect could spell opportunity for an airline to emulate Spirit’s pricing but throttle back on the snarky callousness that Spirit (and Ryanair) revel in. A kinder, gentler Spirit, in other words.

Exactly such an airline may be in the making, and its name is Frontier.

Frontier has already taken steps toward redesigning itself along ultra-low-cost lines, recently imposing new fees and scaling back frequent-flyer perks. But those moves would be minor ones if Indigo Partners is successful in its bid to purchase Frontier from the airline’s parent company, Republic Airways.

Indigo is the private-equity company that invested in Spirit in 2006 and is credited with helping Spirit become the company it is today. Republic is known to be interested in selling Frontier, and Indigo is thought to be the most likely buyer.

In preparation for the new venture, Indigo is separating its business interests from Spirit’s. Last week, Indigo owner William Franke resigned his position as chairman of Spirit’s board of directors, and Indigo is in the process of divesting its 12 million shares of Spirit stock.

Such moves would suggest that the purchase is all but certain and should be finalized within the coming weeks.

There’s no question that Franke and his team will transform Frontier into an ultra-low-cost carrier. What remains to be seen is what kind of an ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier will be.

It would be easy enough to simply copy the Spirit model and harvest the profits while turning a deaf ear to customers’ ire. Or they could opt to make Frontier a kinder, gentler version of Spirit. Which might make for happier investors and passengers.

Just sayin’…

Reader Reality Check

What are your hopes and expectations for Frontier?

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  • Alex

    As a South Florida resident, I actively discourage people from flying Spirit. (Spirit is based here.) The problem with Spirit isn’t the fees or the offensive marketing. It’s not even the abysmal customer service that makes me wish they’d disappear. The real issue is the complete lack of interline agreements.

    Unlike most airlines, Spirit will not put you on another airline if your flight is canceled. In an IRROP situation, Spirit will either refund your ticket or put you on the next Spirit flight with availability. For some destination, that next flight might be several days away. Needless to say, Spirit does not provide hotel accommodations while you wait.

    As for Frontier, a quick look at their website shows that they have interline agreements with 25 airlines. (Granted, many of those airlines are foreign carriers. But, they work with Alaska, American, US Airways, Virgin America, and several domestic regional carriers.) Knowing that, I wouldn’t hesitate to book Frontier if the price was right.

  • Rufus

    As a UK resident, I can confirm how appalling and shabby the treatment you get from Ryanair is. However, even with all the ‘hidden’ fees, if you book in advance, they are unbelievably cheap. The kind of airline described above as Frontier’s goal is more akin to EasyJet. More expensive than Ryanair, but still great value, they treat people like human beings instead of cattle. The US badly needs this kind of airline – I am constantly amazed at how expensive domestic flights can be on the major carriers with discernibly little service in return other than a few frequent flyer miles thrown in.

  • joshieboy

    service can actually be quite good or decent or like humans on a bunch of domestic flights. B6 and WN come to mind

  • larry bradley

    Spirit most certainly DOES provide hotel accomodations for IRROP situations. They put me up in the Sheration in Lima, Peru and a Marriott Suite hotel in Ft. Lauderdale. They also provided meal vouchers and transportation in both cases. Of course, they will not do this if you live in or near the departing city.

  • Barry Moss

    Does anyone ever fly Spirit twice?

  • Alex

    I’m shocked to hear that, as it’s counter to the stories I’ve read from various media outlets. But, I’ll defer to you, as you have personal experience.
    That said, it doesn’t change the fact that Spirit doesn’t interline with other carriers. In some cases, hotels wouldn’t be needed if Spirit could put travellers on same-day flights on other carriers.