Spirit Airlines may be a discount airline but it has received plenty of press in recent years for all of the fees (or as Spirit likes to call it, “optional services”) it has charged customers, such as a fee for printing a boarding pass at the airport, or cost-cutting that shoehorns a dozen extra seats than competitors within the same size plane.
That kind of move has “won” the brand such accolades as being the only U.S. carrier on the World’s Worst Airlines and the worst-performing U.S. airline. It has been recognized for hiring the “rudest flight attendants” and being the “most complained about” airline. It has inspired such venom that customers have formed Boycott Spirit Airlines and Spirit Airlines Sucks groups, not to mention the requisite nod by The Onion.
CEO Ben Baldanza has long defended the brand’s poor reputation, telling NPR earlier this year that customers (including “hate fliers”) may complain about the service, but they come back for the low prices: “We’re not even Walmart. We’re Dollar General. And we like being Dollar General, because we save people lots of money.”
In a surprising turnaround, however, Baldanza is now looking to improve the customer experience—somewhat. Don’t expect cushier seats or more legroom, but do expect more openness as part of a brand refresh that includes a new logo and, more importantly, more transparency about how and why their fares got so cheap.
— Spirit Airlines (@SpiritAirlines) May 7, 2014
One of the biggest issues that Spirit has heard gripes about is that customers feel blindsided by all the different “optional services” (read: hidden fees) it charges the unsuspecting. So the revamp is all about letting people know what is in store for them on a Spirit flight, centered around the hashtag #BareFare and its educational website, spirit.com/101.
“Let’s not let anybody be surprised about Spirit,” Baldanza told USA Today this week. “Let them know exactly who we are.”
— Spirit Airlines (@SpiritAirlines) May 7, 2014
As part of the brand refresh, which includes an updated logo and tagline (“Less Money. More Go.”), Spirit has released a series of videos on its microsite to show customers why Spirit works the way it does and “how to fly Spirit Airlines”—teaching customers the spirit of the Spirit brand, if you will, in the hope that customers will forgive the lack of niceties and come to love “the home of the bare fare.”
The site also gives a rundown of some of the services you’ll need to pay extra for, though the actual amounts are found on a different page that isn’t linked directly from there. If Baldanza doesn’t want any “gotchas,” the company might want to make the “optional services” pricing much more obvious.
The company’s planes will be getting new black-and-yellow paint jobs in the revamp, but the new livery won’t be rolled out overnight. To do it all at once would be too expensive so the new color scheme will be rolled out over an extended period of time.
And for those who voted in the “rudest flight attendant” survey, take heed: Spirit has also started “training employees about how to better interact with customers,” USA Today notes.
Of course, as your mother taught you, good manners don’t cost a thing, and you can’t build loyalty on rudeness (well, not always). “It is the most important pillar of this marketing campaign,” travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt commented to USA Today. It’s crucial to “re-train employees and help them understand the phrases to use with customers ahead of this marketing campaign.”
It’s not the only hated discount carrier that has resolved to be friendlier and more customer-centric. Europe’s Ryanair recently unveiled an effort at being nicer following years of complaints, including its first TV ads, and a “we’ve changed!” campaign and new tagline (“Low Fares. Made Simple”), although not everyone’s buying it.
At the other end of the spectrum, meanwhile, UAE-based Etihad Airways is going in quite the other direction.
Etihad is promoting a new fleet of ultra-luxury planes that give passengers their own “onboard apartment with its own bedroom, a bathroom with a shower, and a sitting room” as well as a butler for a flight from Abu Dhabi to London, CBS News reports. It’ll only run you $21,000, of course. In time, planes with such apartments will be available on flights that run from New York, London, Paris, Sydney and Melbourne.
And Etihad isn’t alone internationally in offering more in-flight luxury. Emirates already had showers on some of its flights. Air France also introduced higher-end luxury suites on some of its flights this week, although nowhere near as big or as plush as Etihad’s. It does have a 24-inch HD touchscreen for each passenger and a seat that reclines to be more than six feet long flat, however. At Spirit, you’re grateful they’re not inviting customers to help repaint those planes and make them even more bare.
Your thoughts on Spirit’s “We’re cheap—deal with it” customer re-education program? Share them below.