Spirit Airlines Replaces Loudmouth CEO Ben Baldanza

For the last decade, Ben Baldanza has been the outspoken, often crass leader of Spirit Airlines, the bottom-dollar carrier that was easily the most complained-about airline in the U.S., but which Big Ben declared was the country’s “most consumer-friendly” carrier. It looks like Spirit has fallen out of love with Baldanza, who has stepped down from his gig as CEO.

The airline announced this morning that, effective immediately, it was installing board member Robert L. Fornaro as President and CEO. If Fornaro’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the CEO of AirTran when that discount carrier was purchased by Southwest.

Baldanza, known more for bizarre marketing moves like releasing survey results showing that people hate his airline, was rather subdued in his explanation for his exit.

“Following the tremendous growth and success of Spirit over the last 10 years, the Board and I have concluded that this is the right time to implement an orderly succession plan,” explained Benny B. “Bob is the right choice to lead the Company through its next phase of growth.”

While Baldanza may be talking up all the longterm success of Spirit during his tenure, the Florida-based airline’s stock is now only about half of what it was when it peaked in Dec. 2014. This is due in no small part to larger airlines cutting their prices to compete during the last year.

Lest you think that this change in leadership could signal a shift in direction for Spirit, Fornaro says the airline’s focus will remain on “delivering a customer-friendly product and providing the lowest total price to the places we fly.”