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If You Don’t Like What Spirit Is Doing, You Should Have Been Hating Allegiant for a While Now

To wrap up Spirit Airlines week here at the OTR, I wanted to point out the role that executives make in how customers perceive airlines.  Case in point, Spirit and Allegiant.

Would you complain constantly about an airline that offers a miserable 30″ seat pitch on its rather old planes, features seats that do not recline, charges you $11 to reserve a middle seat, charges $5 for priority boarding, charges $35 for a gate-checked bag, and makes you pay for water?  Probably, right?  But Allegiant does all that (and more) but has legions of fans that keep their planes more than 90% full quarter-after-quarter.  Spirit Airlines has implemented similar policies, and each time they do, they are met with derision and scorn. Why is that?

I think the answer is two-fold:

1) Spirit’s executives have kept a high profile in the media, making a big deal out of each fee as a way of suggesting that fees are keeping their fares very low.  Yet each time they do, media and customers freak out (this is not suggesting that they lose customers; on the contrary, they have grown considerably over time).  Spirit has simply taken the approach that any publicity (and in their case, it is nearly exclusively negative) is good publicity.  And…

2) Allegiant offers services to cities where not only to customers have no other choice, their customers are absolutely thrilled that nonstop service is offered to leisure destinations.  The fine folks in Bismarck, North Dakota, and Bozeman, Montana, are just happy to not fly through a hub (or happy have service at all).  Allegiant has portrayed itself as a way for people in these cities to enjoy more time on vacation and less time traveling, while paying a pretty low fare.  That message has generated an enormous amount of goodwill, causing customers to accept the very same policies that have caused people to complain nonstop about Spirit.

Neither method is correct, and I do think that Spirit’s execs have flaunted their policies on purpose, keeping the airline’s name in the news and generating an impressive amount of awareness for their airline.  You can hate them, but don’t hate them for the same policies that Allegiant implements without passenger complaint.

(I’ve mentioned before, though, that Allegiant is probably the best-run airline in the US, and among the best-run airlines in the world.  Through the economic downturn they have continued to be profitable and grow – quarter after quarter – while making an impressive number of smart decisions.)

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