Spirit encouraged by early results of passenger education campaign


US ultra low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines is encouraged by the performance of its new campaign designed to educate passengers about its extreme product unbundling business model. But the real test of success is if customers complaints about Spirit actually decline.

The campaign and its accompanying tagline “Less Money More Go” debuted in May of this year. It also includes a ‘Spirit 101’ web page featuring videos and tips for customers on how to save money when flying with the airline.

“Weʼre very encouraged at the early results of this effort,” Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza recently declared to analysts and investors. “Weʼll be targeting messaging via many additional touch points as the campaign matures.”

Baldanza remarked that Spiritʼs “Bare Fare plus Frill Control” messaging “is resonating well with customers, as they see the benefit of only paying for what they truly value”.

While Spirit is unsurprisingly bullish about the campaign, the real test of its triumph
 in successfully changing passenger sentiment about charging for essentially every aspect of the travel experience outside of the fare is a drop in consumer complaints logged with the US government. “What really has to happen is a decrease in customer complaints sent to the DOT,” says Atmosphere Research Group travel analyst Henry Harteveldt. “Then Spirit can claim success.”

No definitive conclusions can be drawn from the latest data on consumer complaints released by the DOT covering June 2014, which was just about a month after Spirit launched the new campaign. Spirit garnered a total of 93 complaints in June, which was actually higher than the 72 complaints filed against the airline in May when the new campaign was launched. During both months, flight problems represented the bulk of complaints against Spirit – approximately 33% in May and roughly 41% in June. The DOT categorizes flight problems as cancellations, delays or any other deviations from schedule, whether planned or unplanned.

For the months of May and June flight problems represented the greatest number of total complaints registered with the DOT, accounting for 47% of the total 1,010 customer complaints in May and 41% of the 1,095 recorded in June.

Overall Harteveldt concludes that Spiritʼs passenger education initiative is a “very smart thing to do” given that the carrier “is very different from other airlines. It is important to manage customer expectations.”

However, he also believes Spirit has an opportunity to “put more attention on the front line customer service staff”, adding that acting rude should not be a byproduct of inexpensive fares. The original People Express, charging for drinks and food, was the ultra low-cost carrier pioneer, says Harteveldt. But the airline was also renowned for its friendly staff.

Along with its efforts to create more positive passenger sentiment, Spirit could also assess if it has “the right people in the right job,” says Harteveldt.

In the meantime, Spirit does acknowledge that it does have some customers purchasing tickets, that “donʼt understand our difference,” Baldanza stated earlier in 2014. Those passengers “get frustrated by some of the things we do that other airlines donʼt do. So we see an opportunity to make sure that everyone who buys a ticket on Spirit understands the value of buying on Spirit.”