An Interview With The Fee-Happy CEO Of Spirit Airlines

Low cost, no-frills Spirit Airlines takes heat from people annoyed with how it charges a fee for everything and for its crass and tasteless ads that capitalize on scandals and tragedies in the news. We’ve dished some out ourselves. But it’s hard not to walk away from reading this AP interview with its CEO and business model mastermind Ben Baldanza without some new respect for the guy. For one, he turned around a money-losing airline and it’s been profitable ever since. And at least this airline is upfront about how they’re gonna give it to you.

(Upfront on their website, that is. 3rd party booking sites don’t fully communicate the raft of fees and disclosures and caveats Spirit Airlines has on their own website.)

Spirit competes by having low fares and no frills and charging fees for everything. There’s a fee for getting a seat assignment, for bringing on a carry-on, for getting an exit row seat in advance, and for printing out your boarding pass. There’s a fee for getting water.

Baldanza makes no apologies. “We believe this is the most consumer friendly model in the world because we’re giving consumers the option to save money if they are willing to behave in a way that saves us money,” he told the AP.

Two more selected quotes:

“I actually think we annoy people who don’t fly us more than we annoy people who fly us.”

“Our business model works at higher fuel prices. Would it work at any fuel price? Well, I can’t say that. Because the density of our airplanes is so high, we need to raise our ticket prices less than the rest of the industry. Between New York and Florida, for example, both we and JetBlue fly the A320 airplane. They put 150 seats on the plane, we put 178. If oil prices go up such that it costs $100 more in fuel to fly, JetBlue’s got to get that over 150 people, we’ve got to get it over 178.”

He also reveals his personal side. Baldanza is an avid board game collector. His favorite is a German one called “Die Macher” where you play a political party that must go through seven different elections. How well you do in those elections is based on how good you are at controlling the media.

Meet America’s king of airline fees [AP]