U.S.-based low-cost carrier Spirit got featured in a nearly eight-minute segment last week on ABC's Nightline. Nightline doesn't shy away--much--from describing the cons as well as the pros of traveling on Spirit, which I'm sure is thrilled to have the free publicity regardless.
One thing that is missing are any questions about the airline's profitability. The fact that it carried more than 7 million passengers last year does not tell you whether its business model is working. Spirit is privately held but does have to disclose quarterly financial results, eventually, to the U.S. Transportation Dept. Spirit actually lost $49 million in the third quarter of 2008 (Aviation Daily subscriber-only story), but new numbers out today show an $11.1 million profit for the fourth quarter and the airline posted a $17.6 million profit in the second, so the jury is still out on this one.
A couple of the comments that Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza makes also should raise some eyebrows. One is this:"The way we like to think of it is that the biggest difference between us and other airlines is that they give you a free Coke, but they charge $150 more. So if I want to sell you a can of Coke for $150 are you going to buy it for me? That's what you pay on other airlines."
I'll wager that there isn't any airline charging $150 more on a ticket because of free sodas. Later on, however, Nightline does link the lower fares to other Spirit policies as well, and perhaps Baldanza was speaking figuratively, so I'll cut him a little slack on that one.
Near the end of the segment, Baldanza gets away with saying, "if want an enormous amount of legroom" than Spirit is "not your airline." But saying "enormous amount of legroom" is disingenuous. Other than Spirit's Big Front Seat, for which it charges extra, the seat pitch or leg room for Spirit's seats are a miserly 28 to 30 inches. Syndicated humor columnist Gene Weingarten writes about the seating conditions, in his own way, in a column here. Of course, many people appear to be willing to trade their legroom for lower fares, which is Spirit's philosophy.