Cheap airfare can come with travel hassles
Anyone buying a ticket on one of the super-lowcost, low-fare airlines knows not to expect any frills. But in recent months, flying on bigbargain airlines such as Spirit and Allegiant has often meant delayed or canceled flights as they have struggled to run their operations reliably.
Each has unique issues to address, from Spirit Airlines Inc.’s labor meltdown with its pilots to a wholesale effort at Allegiant Travel Co. to sharpen its aircraft maintenance policies and practices. Allegiant also replaced some employees at various airports this past spring with “new faces and fresh blood,” said Scott Sheldon, the airline’s interim chief operating officer.
The low fares continue to fill the planes, and all three of the U.S. ultralow-cost airlines remain profitable. But the hassle factor has been as real for fliers as jet-fuel bills are for the airlines.
“We sincerely apologize to our customers who were affected by the flight disruptions during the quarter,” Bob Fornaro, Spirit’s president and chief executive, said in a statement Thursday accompanying the airline’s latest results. Allegiant Travel Co. president John Redmond told analysts on Wednesday, “When you look at our operations (in the second quarter), we did not meet our expectations at all, and surely not those of our customers.”
An ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) will never, ever try to be as punctual as a big legacy airline. Being on time all or most of the time costs money. Delta Air Lines Inc., for example, has spent enormous sums of money in recent years to move toward the head of the industry pack in quashing delays. ULCCs can’t go all-out on that without risking their business model. Most try to settle in the middle — not so punctual that it boosts costs and not so delayprone that they get a reputation and incur longterm customer wrath.
At privately held Frontier Airlines Holdings Inc., “we don’t necessarily believe that it’s costeffective to end up in the top quartile for on-time performance,” Daniel Shurz, a senior vice president, said Friday.
Spirit’s 1,500 Airbus pilots earn about 60 percent of their peers’ salaries at other airlines, according to their union, the Air Line Pilots Association. The company and pilots continue to meet with federal mediators. The labor rancor began to affect customers in April, when the airline says pilots began refusing to pick up open trips as part of their push for a new labor deal.