Spirit Airlines CEO: Squeezing Seats on Our Planes Pays Off

February 11, 2019

By Carlo Versano

When Spirit Airlines CEO Ted Christie flies, he flies his own ultra-low-cost carrier ーin coach. Such is the attitude at Spirit, where cost efficiencies are the very principle on which the airline does business.

Christie, who started in the role as Spirit Airlines ($SAVE) CEO this year, said that the business model is simple: its very low-cost structure drives low fares, which drive demand. Spirit, which is notorious for its no-frills cabin experience, even manages to pack more seats onto each aircraft, which helps the company diffuse fuel costs when they spike.

While Spirit takes its share of licks from passengers on social media, Christie said the airline's success has more to do with stimulating travel "off the bottom" ー reaching travelers who wouldn't otherwise fly, rather than frequent travelers looking to save a few bucks.

That is "untapped and unconstrained" demand, Christie said.

Even still, it's paying customers who demand some level of reliability, service, and comfort, even at the low price points. Spirit placed last in the 2018 American Customer Satisfaction Index of airlines.

"We're working hard on it," Christie said of the customer satisfaction metrics.

But value is its own satisfaction metric. Clean planes that are on-time, with friendly staff and bags that don't get lost ー for a $59 ticket ー is the value proposition Spirit wants its customers to consider.

The airline is adding some amenities to its flights: notably, high speed internet, which will cost between $6 and $10 per flight, Christie said, and be available across the fleet this year.

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