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Spirit Airlines' CEO says customers say one thing but do another

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: March 25, 2014 - 3:30 PM

Ben Baldanza is short. I learned that in the "CBS Sunday Morning" interview of the Spirit Airlines' CEO last Sunday. That explains why Baldanza thinks the seats on a Spirit plane are comfortable. "I've got room," he said in the interview. "Admittedly, I'm short."

The interviews covers the usual ground (Spirit's excessive fees) but surprised me in a couple of ways. Schlesinger asked if people dislike Spirit so much, why are their planes nearly always full?

"What people say and what people do are different things," said Baldanza. In other words, people will complain a lot about checking $100 to check a bag at the airport or $3 for a glass of water, but apparently they check that bag online or pack lighter the next time. Or they bring an empty water bottle and fill it near the gate--a Spirit gate. In other words, they often still fly Spirit because it's significantly cheaper, even after the fees are added in, said travel guru Peter Greenberg.

What also surprised me is that only a passing reference was made to Spirit's poor on-time performance. Spirit has the lowest on-time flight numbers of any airline in the Twin Cities, according to Flightstats.com. For example, if a consumer purchased a $76 roundtrip airfare from MSP to Chicago O'Hare on Spirit, the passenger has only a 51 percent chance of getting to Chicago on time with the 6 a.m. flight #612. On the return trip that leaves Chicago at 9 a.m. it's only a 45 percent on-time percentage. Nationwide, the on-time average is 80 percent, according to the Dept. of Transportation.

Passengers can learn to pack lighter and bring their own water containers, but they should also pack some patience (or a good long book).