Spirit’s Eyebrow-Raising Ads Seem To Be Working

If nothing else, Spirit Airlines is original. The company has created MILF ads, a campaign timed with the Anthony Weiner scandal called “The Weiner Sale,” ads that referenced the BP oil spill of 2010 (one of the slogans was, “Check out the oil on our beaches”), and more. Spirit Airlines has famously created ads just three hours after related news events and they don’t seem to mind that the ads usually look campy and hastily made.

And yet, no matter how offended some seem by these ads, no matter how unprofessional they might come off as being, the company’s approach must be working. Spirit Airlines was called the most profitable airline in the country last year by The Wall Street Journal.Spirit Airlines: 'Dollar Store of the Sky'

How To Fly If You’re A ‘Customer Of Size’

Given the ever increasing, uh, size of air passengers (not least American air travelers), airlines are cracking down on passengers who may just rather roll up their armrests and encroach a little on the space of other passengers next to them.

The ongoing debate has been around whether larger passengers are, and should be, required to buy extra seats for themselves, and the jury is coming back with a definitive “yes.” Yahoo! News rounds up policies from major airlines on “passengers of size,” whether there are special provisions, if fees are required, and, basically, what the deal is.

After going through the options, we can weigh in on the best and worst.

The winners? Customers of some size may want to opt for JetBlue, which has slightly larger seats than most other airlines. Usually airlines provide about 17 inches between armrests, but JetBlue provides 17.8 inches.

If you’re a customer of the next size up, your best bet may, surprisingly, be Spirit. Although Spirit is known for nickel-and-diming its customers with loads of different fees, paying extra for a Big Front Seat may actually be worth your while, rather than buying a whole extra seat like you’d have to on another airline. In addition to offering 6 extra inches of legroom, Spirit’s Big Front Seats are 18.5 inches wide.

If you’re a customer of a larger size than that, your best bet may be Delta, which doesn’t require you to buy an extra seat. Delta will simply give you an extra seat next to you … if one is available. Obviously, the downside is if you’re in a rush and there are no spare seats on the plane. They’ll put you on another plane with extra room, but you may have to wait. In that case, it’s your choice to buy an extra seat for yourself in advance.

The loser? United. If you fly on United, you have to prove the armrests go down and stay all the way down – even if you’re seated next to family. While I totally understand (and agree) that it’s inappropriate for strangers to intrude on other passengers’ spaces, other airlines make an exception if you sit next to family members who don’t mind. No such luck on United. You can purchase your extra United seat in advance, and if you don’t, you may be charged additional walk-up fees later.

[Image credit: Flickr user sbamueller]

Man Kicked Off Budget Airline For Wearing Baggy Pants

spirit airlines In recent airline news, a man was kicked off a Spirit Airlines’ flight for wearing baggy pants with the top of his underwear showing.

According to the Daily Mail, a flight attendant asked the passenger to pull up his pants, but he refused.

“It was to the point where his entire bottom was hanging out,” said Spirit Airlines’ spokeswoman Misty Pinson. “And that’s not appropriate. We have a lot of customers on the plane, a lot of children on the plane.”

According to Pinson, the man’s pants were below his bottom, exposing his underwear but no skin. When he was confronted, the unidentified man apparently become aggressive, threatening to smack the flight attendants.

When law enforcement arrived, the man and his female companion were escorted off the plane with their belongings, and put on a later flight.

What are your thoughts on airlines enforcing dress codes?

[Flickr image via Alaskan Dude]

Airline Fees: You Get What You Pay For Or Weapons In Travel Class Warfare?

airline fees - plane seat meapLast month, the media was abuzz over increased airline fees for pre-assigned seating, with many concerned that it would especially affect families who want to sit together for no additional cost. Even New York Senator Chuck Schumer got involved, asking airlines to waive fees for families traveling with children. Rather than look for victims or call airlines “anti-family,” however, look at the bigger picture. Airline seat fees are nothing new, but they are increasingly being used as another weapon in the arsenal against the airlines’ least desirable customer: the infrequent flier. If travelers will choose airfares based on a difference of nickels and dimes, does this force the airlines to nickel and dime the traveler?

The real divide in travel now isn’t between business and leisure travelers, families and singles, or even first class and coach; it’s between frequent fliers with airline loyalty, and price-conscious consumers who won’t hesitate to switch carriers for a cheaper fare. Savvy travelers who fly more than a few times per year understand that it pays to be loyal to one airline. In addition to earning miles for future trips, frequent fliers can jump to the top of upgrade lists, skip long check-in and security lines, and even waive many of the fees not included in the base fare. Travelers who fly only a year or less are more likely to book the cheapest ticket they find, even if the difference between carriers is just a few dollars, assuming the service will be similar (or worse, the same as they remember the last time they flew). What’s the incentive for airlines to give such passengers anything for free if they might never fly them again? “The customers that are more loyal, who fly more often, we want to make sure they have the best travel experience,” said American Airlines to Associated Press.

People are quick to call airlines greedy, and while they are looking to make money, running an airline is hardly a lucrative business these days. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a nifty graphic breaking down the cost of an average flight, showing that on a 100-person flight, the airline is making a profit off only a single seat. Between the rising costs of fuel, staff, security, insurance, and maintenance, most airlines are struggling to avoid bankruptcy or just stay in business. While you shouldn’t feel sorry for the airlines, understand that the alternative to fees is increased base fares, where you may be stuck paying for amenities you don’t need or want.As I’ve lived abroad for two years, I’ve become loyal to Turkish Airlines. They not only have the most flights from my current home airport in Istanbul, but I know I’ll always get a meal even on short flights, never have to pay fees outside of excess baggage, and even be able to use a dedicated check-in desk for travelers with children at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. I’ve often paid more to fly on Turkish Airlines than other carriers on the same route to guarantee the same standards of service. This makes me a valuable customer, and the more money I spend with them, the more perks I receive.

Earlier this year, I was looking for tickets from New York to Austin for a friend’s wedding. It was slightly cheaper to fly on American Airlines (my preferred carrier when I lived in New York) than Jet Blue, but as a solo traveler with a baby, I knew I’d be checking a bag and wanting to take my stroller up to the gate. Jet Blue would offer these services for free (American wouldn’t let me gate-check the stroller, but I could check it at the counter for free), and the overall cost would be about the same, plus I’d get free snacks and entertainment. In the end, I chose Jet Blue and was even given a priority seat without charge because the flight was relatively empty. If I were still based in New York and flying frequently, it would be more worthwhile to me to fly American to build my frequent flier status and miles for places I’d like to go.

As a parent who travels frequently with my child, I understand the potential nightmare separate seating could cause, but I also understand that airlines can’t make exceptions without making some passengers unhappy. If airlines were to waive a seating charge for families, travelers would complain about special treatment. Fliers with elderly parents would ask for exemptions to sit together, people with a fear of flying would want their travel partner close with no fee, and single travelers would feel they were being forced to subsidize everyone else.

Over at Huffington Post, my colleague (and fellow baby travel expert) Corinne McDermott contacted all of the major airlines regarding pre-assigned seating fees. Only Spirit Airlines explicitly said families should pay fees to be guaranteed adjacent seats. In fact, much of the hype about families being separated might really just be that: hype. Most airlines will try to accommodate people traveling together, just reserving preferred aisle and window seats to reward frequent fliers, or sell for an additional fee. It makes sense for an airline to offer a premium like preferred seating for free to a loyal customer, and instead try to make as much money as possible for a customer they may never have again.

Instead of spending time writing angry comments online, spend that time educating yourself about the full cost of an airline ticket and decide where your priorities lie: do you want to pay the absolute lowest fare and expect nothing more than a seat, or do you want to pay for service instead surprise fees? The old axiom “you get what you pay for” is the new reality in airline travel.

Spirit Airlines fed up, says government has hidden agenda

Spirit airlinesThis week, Spirit Airlines, mad about new airline disclosure rules, started adding a $4 “unintended consequences of DOT regulations” fee to ticket prices. It’s just the latest in a salvo of complaints by airlines over new fare disclosure rules they feel are unfair.

Spirit Airlines isn’t happy with the new rule requiring airlines to include all taxes and mandatory fees in the quoted airfare price and posted a big “Warning!” sign pop-up on the carrier’s website making that quite clear earlier this week. The pop-up is gone now but the information is still prominently displayed, urging consumers to contact their Congressional Representatives to complain.

In a direct attack on the new rules Spirit says “If the government can hide taxes in your airfares, then they can carry out their hidden agenda and quietly increase their taxes. (Yes, such talks are already underway.)” on their linked web site, keepmyfareslow.org.

Spirit believes that with the total price on display up front, it looks like airlines are raising their prices which could drive away consumers, something a low-cost airline can not afford.

“We’re against these new regulations because we actually think it reduces transparency,” Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza told Time this week. “We think it makes it harder for consumers to understand what they’re paying for.”

The new regulations of airline marketing also allow passengers to wait as long as 24 hours to pay for a reservation, a huge change from policies airlines have requiring immediate, nonrefundable payment for discount fares.

Here is where they might have a point: its a trade-off of sorts.

Airlines often struggle to fly full planes and need to have them full to make a profit. The airline gives a discount to attract buyers and expects that seat to stay sold in return.

Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza said in a statement that “the new rule takes seats out of circulation, albeit temporarily, limiting the inventory for people willing to pay on the spot. As a result, he said, the airline now has to spread costs over fewer passengers, and add the $4 fee” reported the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Confusing? Looking at this from a different angle might provide some clarity. This is an issue that cruise lines, exempt from disclosure rules, have begun dealing with recently also.

Traditionally doing what DOT rules are having airlines do just now, travel agents or passengers booking directly could put a courtesy hold on a cruise cabin to lock in the price and availability for a given period of time. That took the cabin out of the available inventory for others to choose from, much like airlines are being forced to do now. Affecting available inventory and pricing even more, huge blocks of cabins on a given sailing could be held out of available inventory for a proposed group sailing, artificially inflating occupancy levels.

On the other end, cruise line cancellation policies were more generous in the past, allowing passengers to book up to a year or more in advance and cancel just before final payment with no penalty. Cancellation charges started on the day final payment was due and increased as the date of sailing came closer, to where if passengers canceled within 7 days of sailing the cancellation penalties would be as much as was paid for the booking. Now, that 100% penalty time is happening farther out from sailing, giving the cruise line more time to sell that cabin to someone else and further discouraging passengers from cancelling.

A good example of what the airlines are talking about can be found in new cruise fare options aimed at reducing those cabins that have been taken out of the available inventory but are not really sold yet.

Carnival Cruise Lines
Early Saver Fare is a good example.

In world of seemingly unlimited deals and offers with pricing all over the board, Carnival guarantees the Early Saver Fare to be the lowest advertised fare and reduces the price if a legitimate lower price is found.

Simple.

In return, the buyer agrees that the deposit is totally non-refundable, few changes can be made to a booking without incurring a $50 per change administrative fee, and standard cancellation penalties apply, much like reduced fare airline tickets were before the disclosure rules set in.

Airlines contend that they are being singled out as other travel products including hotel rooms and cruise vacations that commonly advertise tax-off pricing and are not affected by the rule. They are correct on that point.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood does not agree though, calling the regulations common sense in his own return attack.

“This is just another example of the disrespect with which too many airlines treat their passengers,” he said reports the Chicago Tribune.

On the other hand, if how discount air carriers do business keeps them in the air, at low prices, should we complain? Who really ends up losing here?



Bankruptcy for American Airlines


Flickr photo by redlegsfan21