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The Real Reason People Hate Spirit Airlines

Complaints abound, but number one may surprise you.

Spirit Airlines' "State of Hate" survey is raising some eyebrows. (Courtesy of Spirit Airlines)
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Complaints abound, but number one may surprise you.

Spirit Airlines is offering 8,000 free air miles to anyone who completes its first-ever “State of Hate” survey. The questionnaire allows passengers to rant about the profusion of things that annoy them about air travel, but really it’s a forum for the no-frills airline to justify its policies and take a dig at its competitors. The questions regard air travel in general, but since respondents are most likely Spirit Airlines passengers or those familiar with the carrier, it’s not a stretch to infer that most of the complaints apply to Spirit itself.

The first 28,205 responses principally bashed the airline’s seats. Spirit addresses the issue on its website: “We think about seats differently. We put a few more on each plane to lower fares for everyone.” Fees were the second-most frequent grievance. Spirit’s take: “To us they’re not fees. We think of them as options.” The main objective, apparently, is to instruct respondents on why their complaints are misinformed.

Another goal: disperse blame across fellow airlines. In the survey, Spirit asks, “Who blames who for what?” (their grammatical error, not ours) and goes on to attribute specific complaints to the competition. “This seems to be a very clever way to heap negativity on competitors, under the guise of something ‘fair,’” writes Neal Roese, professor of marketing at Northwestern. “In fact, the word ‘hate’ seems to be associated much more with other airlines over the course of the web ad than with Spirit.”

Spirit employed its hate-dispersion tactic most blatantly in the third infographic: “Although Spirit hosted the giveaway…60% of the total hate went to other airlines! Huzzah!” The implication, though, is that 40 percent of the hate was directed at Spirit, more than three times the amount aimed at the runner-up (Delta).

Professor Lars Perner of the University of Southern California found the report troubling. “There is a fair amount of humor involved. I worry that it might suggest that the concerns are minor and that there is not a serious problem that needs to be addressed.” This attitude is best illustrated by a recent interview with Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza. “If you want the truth…you watch what people do, you don’t listen to what they say,” Baldanza observed. “And what people do is fill our planes every day.”

The “State of the Hate” campaign isn’t a symptom of economic desperation. Over the last two quarters, Spirit Airlines’ net income has increased from $37.8 million to $73.9 million. Their business model, which cuts airfare to the bare minimum and charges for all additional services, is evidently successful.

Why? Well, if you’re flying with Spirit, you’re probably boarding much quicker than on other airlines. The fee for carry-on luggage is higher than checked luggage, which means less fussing in the aisle during boarding time, a bonus reflected in the survey results. (Boarding is listed among the least common reasons for anti-Spirit vitriol.)

If you can bear the Spirit experience, this is your chance to rack up 8,000 free air miles by simply complaining. It’s also a prime opportunity to add to the report’s tally on the word “fuck,” which currently stands at a meager 75.

And finally, always research your airline’s travel fees before buying—especially with Spirit, which will charge you for everything besides a cramped seat.

Filed To: Air Travel / North America
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

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(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.

Plaza2Peak

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(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.