Worst Company In America Round One: Spirit Airlines Vs. Delta

The final day of Round One competition is waiting on the tarmac, ready to take off. Unfortunately, these two airlines would like to charge you for the privilege of voting on which one is worse.

First to taxi down the runway is Delta, which has continued to act like the biggest, greediest airline, in spite of being bumped from the nation’s top spot by the merger of United and Continental.

As many Consumerist readers know, Delta not only has a reputation for misplacing pets; it was also responsible for more than half the pets who died on airplanes in 2011.

It also managed to finish dead last in last summer’s ACSI customer service ratings for airlines. In fact, Delta’s rating managed to drop nearly 10% from the previous year and greater than 27% since the ratings began being reported in 1995.

And yet Delta still took in an astounding $952 million in baggage fees — nearly $300 million more than United and Continental took in during the same time and roughly 28% of what the entire U.S. airline industry made on the fees.

While Delta might have led the pack in the gross revenue from fees, its contender in today’s bout seems to rely on the add-on costs for its basic business model.

Spirit’s cut of the fee pie is only 1/7 that of Delta’s, but the fees account for more than 10% of the smaller airline’s total revenue, three times the percentage at Delta.

In what we continue to assume is a hilarious joke, Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza has called his company “the transparency leader and most consumer-friendly airline,” all while trying to fight price transparency, claiming it’s a government conspiracy to hide taxes.

Spirit also thinks that the way to get around a new rule allowing passengers to change their reservations, sans fee, within 24 hours of booking a ticket is to tack on a “$2 Dept. of Transportation Unintended Consequences Fee.” That was a policy that was so consumer-friendly that Spirit is being sued over it.

Of course, this is the same airline that pioneered charging for carry-on bags — and called it a “consumer benefit.” And wants $5 to print your boarding pass. And penalizes you for not paying for your bags far enough in advance.

Now that we’re cleared for takeoff, it’s time to buckle up and vote.

(Voting for this poll will close at 11:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday March 20.)

This is a post in our Worst Company In America 2012 series. The companies competing for this honor were chosen by you, the readers. See the entire WCIA 2012 bracket and schedule of match-ups HERE.


Edit Your Comment

  1. longfeltwant says:

    Who is voting for Delta? Srsly, Spirit FTW.

    • IphtashuFitz says:

      Agreed. The wife & I just flew across the country twice on Delta and we had no problems whatsoever. Spirit’s CEO alone as pretty much guaranteed that they’ll go far in this contest.

      • longfeltwant says:

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m plenty upset with Delta. I always try to avoid Delta when I can, because their seats are about 2 inches closer together than any other airline, and as a tall guy my knee length happens to fall in exactly those two inches.

        Still, an “unintended consequences fee”? Come on, Spirit, now you’re just insulting our democracy.

    • missy070203 says:

      just flew round trip to/from Atlanta on Delta and other than the person behind me kicking my seat and me wanting to punch them in the face I didn’t have any issues…. although the visible zipper on my top set off the body screen resulting in a full pat down and having my hands checked for explosive residue by the TSA my trip was uneventful

  2. Tegan says:

    I don’t think any airline is exactly well-regarded these days (except for maybe Southwest, they seem to have a rather loyal following), but it’s too hard not to vote for Spirit after the way they’ve made such an ass of themselves in the media here recently.

  3. MutantMonkey says:

    Spirit, simply due to what amounts to temper tantrums from the CEO.

  4. Torgonius wants an edit button says:

    At least the fees are up front and in the open, and if I want to choose a different carrier, I can. Now, if Spirit had a ‘Sorry we killed your pet fee’ to pay to get the dead dog back, they’d win hands down.

    I don’t believe Delta charges you a fee to get your dead dog’s body back, or a ‘sorry we can’t find your animal’ fee, but we didn’t read any stories about Spririt killing or losing animals.

    Delta has my vote.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Being up front and honest seems like it would be the right quality to make them a positive consumer experience, doesn’t it? Except that Spirit is open and honest about the very evil business practices they want in the industry.

    • katarzyna says:

      Yeah, I voted for Delta because of the pets. A dead pet outweighs a crappy flight, in my opinion.

    • legolex says:

      I voted because of all the dead pets, I was surprised to see Spirit winning. Dead pets outweigh some CEO.

  5. frank64 says:

    Spirit seems to go out of their way to make your flight as crappy as possible, just by their attitude, and lowering the checked bags weight to 40 pounds. When they make the pre-flight rounds, they have the look on their face and attitude of my elementary school nuns, much worse than any other airline I have been on.

    The attitude makes me shake my head though. The nun attitude must be a policy, and it would not cost them a thing to have them put a smile on their face, and be a little less stern.

    I guess that wouldn’t be enough to get them the vote though. This contest should be about those that go out of their way to screw you, or show an aggressive indifference to more important things.

  6. s25843 says:

    this is a no brainer. spirit all the way

  7. beachmouse says:

    Ah Delta, who since the NWA merger has an effective monopoly in the Southeast and consequently has far more market share in which to do great harm than Spirit could ever dream of. My attempt at flying with them over the Memorial Day weekend last year involved significant delays on 4 of 4 flight segments resulting in me getting to my vacation destination 18 hours later than scheduled and getting home 4 hours later than planned.

  8. Cosmo_Kramer says:

    Funny how Consumerist readers want a la carte cable TV, but when airlines make their services a la carte people get pissed. Spirit is a no-frills airline. Their business is getting you from point A to point B for the lowest possible price. If you complain that they charge fees for things that other airlines do for free, you’re missing the point.

    • humphrmi says:

      DOT unintended consequence fee

    • xl3ill says:

      The problem with Spirit isn’t that they charge a la carte. The problem is that they use the “a la carte” pricing in order to hide the true cost of their fare. Spirit lures you in thinking you’re getting a great “fare,” only to slap on a bunch of fees later on. Ever try to compare the full cost of flying Spirit to the full cost of flying another airline? Spirit actively strives to make it as difficult as possible to do this. That is not consumer-friendly.

      In economics-speak, it is rent-seeking behavior. Their profits derive not from the value they provide to the consumer, but from the consumer’s ignorance of how much they are going to pay. That’s why the DOT banned this sort of thing. Spirit, of course, threw a hissy fit.

    • OutPastPluto says:

      Spirit airlines isn’t ala carte travel. No. They are more like the newly announced Microsoft idea of charging you for every button you push on your remote. Press pause, get charged extra. Fast Forward through commercials, get charged extra.

      Regular cable is a flat rate subscription service. The airline equivalent would be a membership program where you get to fly as often as you want.

      Spirit is more like a utility bill that has a lot of nonsense fees tacked on so that your final bill is several times your actually billed charges.

      It’s a fraud. A reflection of the fact that no one is man enough to actually state what it costs to get a person from point A to point B based on current operational costs.

      No one wants to give you an honest price.

      • Cosmo_Kramer says:

        Oh my bad, because you found an inconsequential difference (one is a subscription service and one is not) the whole analogy is invalidated.


        Let me dumb it down for you. People want a la carte cable TV because they want to pay only for the services they want, and not pay for the services that they don’t use. Spirit Airlines delivers that to air travelers. Most of the people who complain about Spirit have never even flown with them.

  9. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    Spirit lead the way into the current fee madness so they get my vote.

  10. philpm says:

    If I can decide not to use a company just based on bad press, Spirit is one of the first companies I’d avoid. Fortunately, they don’t have much of a presence at my local airport, so that makes it easy. I’ve flown Delta numerous times (including just 3 weeks ago) and I’ve yet to have a problem with them.

  11. chijosh says:

    My one trip with Delta went fine, but as an animal lover their record with pets is pretty disturbing. On the other hand, Spirit (which I’ve never flown) sounds so laughably anti-consumer it’s hard to vote against it.

  12. The_IT_Crone says:

    Don’t forget that when Delta bought Northwest Airlines in Minneapolis, they promised to leave jobs there. Yeah, long story short, they’re not doing that.

  13. suez says:

    I used to have nothing but good things to say about MidWest Airlines, but now that they’ve merged with Frontier and have stopped servicing both Green Bay, WI and Appleton, WI (thus forcing me and my family to drive 3 hours to the next nearest airport), they’re losing me as a customer by default. Just bought a ticket with Delta yesterday for the first time in a decade. Not happy about that.

  14. Kentankerous says:

    You kill pets, you’re evil.

  15. PhiTauBill says:

    One of the rare instances where the egregious activities of the much smaller entity will overtake the ineptitude of the larger entity that touches a much larger customer base…. Spirit FTW.

  16. nbs2 says:

    You don’t punish McDonalds for being cheap and serving you a depressing grey puck of near meat and having the chutzpah to charge you 25c for some BBQ sauce to make it palatable. You punish Morton’s when they try the same upcharge.

    Spirit is cheap crap, filled with nickel and dime games. It is what it is. Delta (and the other legacies) embraced the games, and still want to charge their premium price.

  17. ShreeThunderbird says:

    I have NEVER been able to complete a flight as originally ticketed on Delta.

  18. ansjc09 says:

    I recently flew on Delta and had a good experience. I didn’t check any bags because I was only flying out to a conference for 3 days, but everyone I came in contact with were really nice.

  19. Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

    Expecting video with Katherine Lee wagging her finger at us saying, “Voting for Delta in the WCIA is strictly prohibited!” from Delta corporate in 3…2…1…

    Funny thing–she’s so freekin’ hot, I’d obey.

  20. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    Companies like Spirit and Allegiant are basically the Greyhound of the air. You know what you’re getting into when you only spend $150 for round trip tickets, half way across the country. It’s cheap, there are no frills, and you accept it’s more akin to the bus, or flying Space-A in the Army. You get what you pay for.

    With Delta, you pay a lot of money and still get crappy service. The last time I flew, it was with Spirit, where I paid $200, including taxes, for round trip tickets to Florida. The cheapest Delta fare was $900. For $900, I have certain expectations; for $200, not so much (just get me there in one piece).

    • Chmee says:

      Exactly. What else do you expect for the price? I’m happy that they at least have wings on the plane and a seat for my behind. And landing gear (an important factor). Everything else is just fluff.

  21. Chmee says:

    Never had a problem with Spirit, although I’ve heard people who have. Besides, they’re cheap tickets. What are you complaining about? Nobody else will fly you from Atlantic City to Miami for $9. Whadya want, rubber biscuits?

    Delta? Never had a problem with them either, except that the seats on their planes suck.

  22. Mambru says:

    For the apst 2 years I have flown Delta (due to company’s choice) and although I had my share of bad experiences is not compared to Spirit’s hidden fees policies. Also I believe Spirit’s scales are somehow rigged I wieghted my luggage and it was at 40 lbs, at the airport it somehow gain 8 lbs. Mind you spirit ahs a 40lb bag policy whereas other airlines is 50lbs

  23. gman863 says:

    In the markets Spirit services, people have a choice of multiple airlines for a given route. If they prefer not to get nickled and dimed with bogus fees, they are free to choose an alternate airline.

    In many small to medium size cities, however, it’s Delta or nothing to most routes.

    My vote goes to Delta based on this.

  24. phaseunbalance says:

    Delta. I don’t know what’s more irritating: The cramped seats; the over-amped preflight commercials for Lincoln (that you can’t opt out of); CEO Richard Anderson’s insipid preflight greeting (that you can’t opt out of); the general apathy of the cabin crew; the illiterate chattiness of the flight attendants over the PA; or the repeated inability of the company to move the aircraft the last 100 yards to the gate and open the doors. The entire Delta experience is nothing but excuses and disclaimers from the time you buy your ticket until you’ve endured a wait for your checked bags. Spirit may pioneer the industry’s cheapskate practices, but Delta takes Spirit’s ideas and runs with them.