Dep: 7/10/13 BOS-MYR -- flight delayed 5+ hrs. (mech. issue & crew rest from previous day)
Ret: 7/13/13 MYR-BOS -- flight delayed 4+ hrs. (supposed mech. issue)
Total non-weather flight delays endured for a four-day vacation: 10 hrs.
My girlfriend's mother has a condo in North Myrtle Beach, which allows us the opportunity to have a great beach vacation without the cost of a hotel. We had taken a trip to Myrtle a couple of years ago en route to a wedding in Raleigh, and had a great time hanging out with friends who joined us from Charlotte. For my birthday this year, my girlfriend surprised me by planning a four-day getaway vacation to Myrtle where we would once again meet with our Charlotte friends, as well as her cousin from N.Y.
We live in Western Massachusetts, and Hartford is the closest major airport, but Boston/Logan, Manchester, N.H., and Albany are all about 90 mins away. When we last came to Myrtle we actually flew Manchester-Raleigh with a brief layover, and drove the 3 hrs or so to Myrtle. It worked out well, but this time my girlfriend decided that she would save me the hassle of that drive and maximize our beach time by booking a flight that went direct to MYR. Spirit was the only direct flight, and their odd flight times to and from Boston (5:20am departure BOS-MYR, 10:30pm departure MYR-BOS; their only flights each day in each direction) actually worked well for us to be able to get as much vacation time in as possible.
After a brief nap Tuesday night, we left for Logan at 1am Wednesday. We parked at the rental car facility and shuttled to the terminal at 3:30. Upon arriving at the Spirit ticketing counter to check our pre-paid bags, the agent informed us that our 5:20am flight was already delayed to 10:30am.
I had spent days researching Spirit’s terrible record of customer satisfaction leading up to this trip, so much so that I had actually begun angering my GF because she felt I was second-guessing her extremely well-intentioned vacation plans. Thanks to the thousands of disgruntled customer reviews on the net and the four-month flight tracking history available from Flight Aware, I was guessing our flight to MYR would leave on time (first flight of the day and all), but that we’d likely face an hour or more delay returning Saturday night.
When told that our departure was delayed 5 hrs. immediately upon our arrival at the airport, however, I was shocked. Apparently the 4pm departure from Atlantic City to Boston the previous afternoon had been delayed for more than seven hours due to a mechanical issue. The late arrival to BOS meant the crew from that flight, scheduled to crew our flight at 5:20am, had exceeded their 16hr FAA-regulated workday, and needed their minimum rest before our flight could leave.
Spirit, however, had a flight from BOS back to ACY scheduled at 8:30am that morning – and this flight departed on time. Why could Spirit not swap crews, let us leave at 8:30 or earlier, and delay the ACY flight 90 mins.? Better yet, when confronted with the seven-hour delay the previous day, and knowing full-well the crew would exceed their time, why didn’t Spirit bring another crew to BOS in advance of the next day’s flight, the first on a run that after MYR was scheduled to continue to Ft. Lauderdale and then to San Juan, PR (and back)?
The answer is the same reason that Spirit has the smallest seats in the US airline industry, and why they charge $3.50 for coffee and water – Ben Baldanza is a greedy *** who cares not one whit about his customers.
As Spirit’s CEO, Baldanza has crafted a company that strives for one thing only – a higher share price for its investors. Under the guise of offering the lowest fares in the country (a debatable claim, as well, once all of the baggage and comfort fees are factored into the base ticket price), he has built an ultra-low-cost carrier that squeezes every penny of savings out of every single flight mile. Some of his “innovations” are actually sound ideas that really don’t affect a traveler’s trip – the netted chairback pouches reduce cabin cleaning times; the lack of framing around the under-seat storage space reduces weight. Many of his policies impact traveler’s in major ways, however – the famous carryon fees, the fees for all non-alcoholic beverages, the upwards of 20 extra seats (that do not recline) crammed into their Airbus jets, etc., all make for unpleasant trips for those unprepared for Spirit’s cheapness.
And then there are the policies that can ruin vacations. Packing as many flights into an aircraft’s day as possible, so that minor delays early on can become major delays later in the plane’s workday. A lack of “stand-by crew,” on call pilots and flight attendants that can be shuttled to trouble spots as needed. Too few gate agents informed and willing to assist travelers facing significant delays. Not enough gates leased at airports to accommodate the pass-through of the airline’s planes. No codeshare agreements with other airlines to assist travelers left stranded by any or all of the above.
The results for his company’s share price are hard to argue – Spirit is recording higher profits than most other airlines. However, his religiosity to the corporate bottom line butts against customer satisfaction, and for this Baldanza basically says, “***.” Baldanza views his passengers as America’s traveling lowest-common-denominator, folks who are only flying his airline because it’s the cheapest. And because of that view, he believes that if he screws over 150 people on a flight who swear they’ll never fly Spirit again, there will be 150 more cheapskates ready to save $20 bucks on his next flight. He has been quoted saying as much in a widely-reported email he sent following one traveler’s complaint. “We owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned,” Baldanza wrote to an employee in 2007 about the aggrieved passenger. “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.”
What this man does not realize (or publicly acknowledge) is that because his airline services smaller airports under-served by major carriers, Sprit is frequently the only game in town. And when major airline-initiated delays occur in and out of a vacation destination like Myrtle Beach – or international connection points like Chicago/O’Hare, NYC/LaGuardia, LAX, or Ft. Lauderdale – passengers’ vacations can be ruined.
“Oh, your flight to New York is delayed five hours due to non-weather problems?” is probably an oft-repeated line from their foreign-based customer call center representatives. “That’s too bad, here’s a $100 future flight credit you can use within the next 12 months, but we won’t be able to help you find a new flight to Paris to make up for the one we caused you to miss. Good luck, and thank you for choosing Spirit Airlines.”
Since our first day in Myrtle was pretty much washed away thanks to the five-hour delay (and it would have been a wonderful beach day, too; as it turned out we only had one more day of good weather while we were there), I watched the airline’s website for updates on our return flight throughout the day Saturday. As we arrived at the airport that evening in advance of the 10:30pm departure, we were aware of the 60 min. delay they had been reporting most of the day. Once again, however, when we arrived at the ticket counter to check our bags were told that we were delayed until at least 1:45am. This time the reason given was a “mechanical issue.” My girlfriend started to cry, and I was livid. Almost 10 hours of flight delays during a four-day vacation – more than 10% of our entire trip – none of which caused by weather.
All night no updates were provided to the passengers waiting at the gate, and when the plane finally arrived from Ft. Lauderdale and began de-boarding, there were no gate agents there to even open the door from the jetway – they needed to be tracked down so that disembarking passengers could enter the terminal and we could board the aircraft.
We did not *** until almost 2:45am, and I repeatedly nearly fell asleep driving back from Boston as the sun was coming up that morning. My girlfriend and I were quite lucky to be alive when we finally made it home at 7:30am, and I hope no other passengers suffered any traffic accidents that morning, since I know many traveled distances at least as long as ours in order to “enjoy” a direct flight to their vacation spot.
I am of the opinion that an airline should meet a minimum standard to provide at least two of the following three services to every passenger who travels with them: low fares, reliability, and comfort. If you want a low fare and reliability, you should have a reasonable expectation to forego some of the more widely-accepted comforts. If you want comfort and reliability, you should expect to pay more for that experience. But passengers should not have to expect to give up all comforts AND the expectation of arriving at their destination within a reasonable amount of time. Ben Baldanza seems to believe that the low fare is all anyone cares about, though, and that gives his company carte blanche to screw passengers over every which way to Sunday.
And perhaps Baldanza is right. Maybe there is “a sucker born every minute,” new rubes who will fail to heed the warnings and put their vacations in the hands of his over-booked, understaffed, and under-equipped airline. But maybe one day soon he’ll run out of suckers. Maybe in a world of social media and efforts to hold corporations like Spirit accountable people will realize it is well worth the extra $50-100 to fly a reputable airline, and that maybe an hour-long layover in Philadelphia or Charlotte is better than a five-hour delay in Boston.
Or better yet, maybe someday soon Spirit’s board of executives and shareholders will realize that travelers really do care about more than low fares. That if they don’t shape up their now-mighty share price will collapse as passengers begin actively avoiding their “dollar store of the skies,” and they’ll go the way of American TransAir, PanAm and Eastern Airlines – gone and forgotten by all, save those thousands whose vacations were ruined by a company who placed revenue ahead of responsibility. And on that day, hopefully Ben Baldanza will find himself the "former-CEO" of Spirit Airlines, and an incredibly tarnished brand can begin down the path of achieving respectability in a market led by companies that care about building a dedicated customer base.
Until that day, however, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to ever fly with Spirit. Fly another carrier. Drive. Take a bus. Heck, ride a bike or walk. You’ll probably arrive at the same time as Spirit’s plane, and even with the blisters on your feet you may end up being even more comfortable when you get there. But even if they offer to pay you, do not fly with Spirit. Ever. If you do, you'll probably regret it.
Monetary Loss: $2000.