Niagara Gazette

Columns

January 3, 2013

GLYNN: Airline serving Niagara area under sharp attack

Niagara Gazette — A magazine writer who deals with consumer travel problems is highly critical of Spirit Airlines, the Florida-based company that operates flights to the Sun Belt out of the Niagara Falls International Airport.

Christopher Elliott, a columnist for the National Geographic Traveler, contends that Spirit:

n Treats its passengers like cargo.

n Is known for its numerous fees (a $100 charge for carrying a bag on a plane if the customer failed to pay the lower fee online).

n Its employees have a reputation for being rude.

n It’s anti-Southwest and, basically, does exactly the opposite of what that popular airlines does for its passengers.

As you might expect, one person bound to take issue with that harsh assessment is Ben Baldanza, the chief executive officer of Spirit. Elliott still thinks, however, that Spirit’s success defies an easy explanation. Also, industry insiders say that it’s not even fair to compare the two airlines.

If Spirit’s policy on fees drives consumers crazy, as Elliott charges, there’s obviously a method to the CEO’s strategy. “Paying extra for the carry-on (not pre-paid), the parking and the $9 to enroll in Spirit’s Fare Club ... all of that allows us to have much lower fares,” Baldanza says.  

He notes the $100-per-bag fee for a carry-on is to discourage those last-minute passengers showing up at the gate and delaying the departure. 

“It’s like a fine,” Baldanza adds, “In fact, we don’t want anyone to be paying $100 but it turns out that it’s a way to speed up the boarding process.” If they had checked that online or at a nearby kiosk in the airport, the cost would have been perhaps $20 to $25. Passengers just need to be a little more savvy about their traveling plans. 

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