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.