Of course Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza is the one who has repeatedly stated that his airline — in spite of being roundly criticized by consumers, regulators, lawmakers, and consumer advocates for its focus on fees and cramming as many bodies into the plane as possible — the “most consumer-friendly airline,” so this level of detachment from reality is nothing new.
Baldanza was on CBS This Morning today to defend himself against the Consumer Reports survey, which used data from 16,663 consumers who took 31,732 flights between Jan. 2012 and Jan. 2013. Spirit received the dreaded black dot “Worse” rating in each of the six categories — Check-In Ease; Cabin-Crew Service; Cabin Cleanliness; Baggage Handling; Seating Comfort. It was the only airline to score black dots in more than three categories.
“One of the things that Consumer Reports survey didn’t ask is where do you get the lowest fare?” Baldanza told CBS’ Charlie Rose. “They asked about leg room, they asked about check-in, bag fees, and things like that. But the total price they pay on Spirit Airlines is less than they pay on anyone else.”
Rose countered by asking Baldanza if it he was implying that it’s impossible to have low fares and offer good customer service. To which the CEO replied, “We do have great customer service.”
Rose somehow manages to keep a straight face and points out that the Consumer Reports survey seems to indicate otherwise. And so Baldanza goes back to singing his song about being low-priced.
“Well again if you’re measuring the physical distance between you and the seat in front of you, our seats are tighter than the other guy,” he explains, completely avoiding the question on customer service. “But customers care about price, and we allow customers to travel for a lower price than they could otherwise travel.”
Baldanza then shows just whose interest Spirit truly serves — the investors.
“But let’s talk about the lists that are important,” he says. “You’re saying bottom of the list, but we’re #1 in margin performance for our investors.”
In a bit of fun pop psychology, CBS’ Gayle King asks Baldanza to compare Spirit to similar retail or food-service companies.
“[W]e’d probably be the Dollar Store,” he replies. “If we were a restaurant, we’d probably be McDonalds or some other kind of fast food chain. No one goes into McDonalds and is surprised they don’t see filet mignon on the menu. When they come to Spirit, they know what they’re getting. They know they’ll get a lower total price than they’ll get anywhere else. They know the seats might be a little bit tighter. They know they’re going to have to bring their own thing to eat on board, but they love that.”
Spirit’s total score for the survey was a lowly 50, 13 points behind the second-worst (United), and 39 points behind top-ranked Virgin America, which earned “Better” rankings in every category except for Seating Comfort.
This is only the latest in a series of bad survey results for Spirit. Last week, it was the only U.S. carrier to make the SkyTrax list of the world’s 20 worst airlines.