Spirit Airlines used to have great customer service. It was refreshing, actually. In the late 90′s, you could fly round-trip from, say, Detroit to New York for about $120 in a hand-me-down jet staffed with friendly people. It was a great, low-cost airline that was always able to surpass its customers (even lower) expectations.
But all that’s changed. Today, they have a brand-spanking-new fleet of mid-sized jets staffed with would-be friendly people who, bound and gagged with corporate red tape, can’t do much to help the customer even when they want to. Sure, the fares are lower than ever, but even with off-peak flights for as low as $1 (yes, really), it’s still not worth it. Why? Because, according to their current CEO, Ben Baldanza, the customer is always a cheapskate — and wrong.
Maybe it’s time to put a dimmer on those red light specials. They say that “a fish stinks from the head,” and if there’s ever been any proof, its this email Mr. Baldanza sent to a customer by accidentally hitting “reply to all” on his BlackBerry:
“Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.”
But, wait! There’s more!! Here’s their Director of Communications, Alison Russell, on a separate incident where blogger Alex Rudloff told readers, “Do Not Fly Spirit Airlines“:
“We wouldn’t respond to a blog post. This goes back to the larger question of the veracity of everything you read on Internet blogs. Our customer service is great.”
Oh, really?? More on my horror story with Spirit 2.0 in a moment. But first, let’s see what Google has to say about the company:
Here’s what Rudloff had to say in his blog post:
“So, instead of losing $5 on a customer who has every right to be angry, I’ll write this blog post and tell all my traveling buddies to add Spirit Airlines to their growing list of airlines to avoid,” Rudloff wrote on Aug. 4. “If Google works their magic like they usually do, at least one of the 4,931 daily searches for “Spirit Airlines” will turn up this result and save someone the headache (and hopefully end up costing Spirit Airlines $6 or more).”
Rudloff later told the Orlando Sentinel that:
“I think ultimately that customers have to speak out and they have to engage in word of mouth . . . That’s what the market responds to.”
Cool! What a great segue…
Last May, I was flying from New York (LGA) to Detroit (DTW), as I often do for Memorial Day weekend — my favorite time to vacation in Detroit. I was running late. The car service was half an hour late, and traffic wasn’t moving, thanks to jackknifed truck on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. After paying top dollar to sit in a car for two hours, it was clear that I’d miss the 30-minutes-before-departure check-in deadline. So, I called Spirit Air’s 1-800 number, only to find there was no “customer service” option. So I waited on hold for, say, 20 minutes until I eventually hung up and called back, pressing a random — and incorrect — selection in hopes of reaching a human who could tell me what to do about the situation. When I finally reached a customer service rep, she told me to go to the airport and speak to the agents at the check-in counter — where I waited for (you guessed it) another 30 minutes.
After all of that, I got to the airport just before the 30-minute mark, but there was a line — a long one — and not enough agents to serve it. When I got to the front of the line, the agent told me that nothing could be done. If I wanted to book another flight, there was one leaving in an hour, but it would cost as much as my entire round trip. I kindly informed this person that I’d be willing to pay a charge — as is typical with other cheapskate airlines — to switch the ticket, but that buying a whole new one, just for a one-way leg of a round-trip flight was absurd. Then, when I asked for a number for customer service because I wanted to complain about the event — after all, I’d been a customer for 10 years — the guy hands me a card with the same freaking number I’d used earlier to get someone who couldn’t help me! When I brought that to the agent’s attention, he said, “I’m sorry, sir, there’s nothing I can do about it” — a common refrain at today’s Spirit Air.
So, Northwest Airlines to rescue (for once), and I was on my way to Detroit with a pounding headache and the world’s dumbest $200 missing from my bank account.
On the way back to New York, I was actually looking forward to flying Spirit. “If this isn’t a good trip after that nonsense,” I thought, “I’m so going to blog this.” Checking in with a smile, I handed the agent my ticket. “I’m sorry, Mr. Gorell, but we don’t have a seat with that name on it for this flight,” he said. I told him that was impossible and that I wasn’t imagining the ticket in my hand. Then it hit me: They’d canceled my entire round-trip ticket because they couldn’t serve me in time!
Turning beet-red, I calmly told the agent of my snag in New York. As I retold the story, one-by-one, all four agents at the desk came up to me, visibly upset by what I had to say. I let them know I was a blogger for a company that specializes in planning and optimizing the customer experience, and that I couldn’t believe the airline had tied their hands from doing anything of value for its “passengers.” Then a crazy thing happened. They actually encouraged me to blog about it! As it turned out, everyone at the counter seemed upset with the company’s new policies, too. I could tell they were biting their tongues, until…
“We used to be #1 in customer service,” said one agent. “Now we can’t help people.”
Her co-workers looked me in the eye and nodded. It was such an honest moment that I actually bought a one-way ticket from them… for the flight I’d already, supposedly, booked. (Oh, and since this was a last-minute one-way flight to NYC, you can be sure I got red flagged for security screening.)
For months, I let it slide. After speaking with the good people at Spirit in Detroit, I worried that blogging about the experience might put their jobs at risk. That is, until I saw Mack Collier’s post, which hipped me to the fact that a lot of other bloggers out there are also convinced that Spirit’s CEO — and not its employees — is what’s putting their jobs at risk by causing this fish to stink:
Sorry, Mr. Baldanza, but you can’t fly faster than word of mouth (or blog).