Spirit Airlines and Baggage Fees – Make it a Pay-for-Use Conversation

images[1] Spirit Airlines has been pummeled by everyone from consumer groups to news commentators to Senator Charles Schumer for announcing carry on baggage fees.  Surely they saw this coming.  But perhaps their problem was not announcing the fees, but not being aggressive enough in doing so…with a twist (or, yes, a spin).

Spirit Airlines is aiming to charge some of the lowest ticket prices.  I have found them to be consistently low priced compared to other airlines for comparable routes.  The problem is that instead of keeping everyone focused on leadership low ticket prices, they are quickly gaining a reputation for leadership in fees.  The exact opposite.    My advice, don’t fight with a Senator Schumer type complaint directly, but fight the message by changing the conversation.

First, lay the groundwork – Make it clear via editorial (earned) media, social media and paid media that Spirit Airlines core mission is to get people from point A to point B for the cheapest ticket price possible by stripping away all extras.  If you want extras, that’s also an option and the ticket price is then comparable to other airlines (it is, I checked).

Second, change the conversation about fees into one about passengers only paying the part of the flight they use.  Why should I pay for someone else that wants to use more of the airlines space (overhead) and time (staff time for boarding is longer with more overhead luggage).  These aren’t fees for carry on baggage, this is higher ticket price for people that want to use more of the airplane’s (and, annoyingly, my) time and space. 

Third, counterattack and challenge the critics.  Use the above points to make it crystal clear that people trying to kill their model are really trying to kill the cheapest ticket prices.   Challenge the critics to show if they can deliver a business model with the same ticket prices, the same level of service and the same level of fairness in paying only for the airline resources you use.   Let the critics know if they can meet this challenge – complete with technical, financial and proof of maintaining good service (e.g., no annoying carry on baggage), you would happily sit down and see if you can implement their models.

And if this debate goes on, make the challenge more public.  Make the Web site message clear that you are the fairest airline by not only charging the lowest basic ticket price, but by charging for the space and time you use, not what other people use.  After all, what beats both cheap and fair.