Posts Tagged ‘Spirit Airlines’

Spirit Airlines, Gut-Checked by the Big Kids, Must Shake Baggage Fee Sticker Shock

April 18th, 2010

Today, thankfully, five major airlines announced they will not introduce the same lame-brain carry-on baggage fees that Spirit Airlines, in its infinite wisdom, will be doing later this summer.  At a time when corporate malfeasance continues running rampant, no doubt the vast majority of travelers will be pleased that in one fleeting instance, they won’t be nickel-and-dimed by big business yet again.

That being said, Spirit Airlines is still insistent that its new extortion customer-appreciation policy is good business.  CEO Ben Baldanza clearly thinks that puppies can meow, and that “on balance [the new fee is] one that our customers will buy into.” Literally, Mr. Baldanza.

In a recent post, the Blog Aesthetic analyzed how Mr. Baldanza should have handled his company’s public relations roll-out for the new fee, arguing that that slap-across-the-face isn’t the best strategy in these situations.  But now the company faces a different issue.  No doubt Spirit Airlines was banking (again with the puns) on the idea that other airlines would play copy-cat, adopt similar fees and deflect attention from one company being the sole bogeyman.  With this key link in the chain is broken, it’s entirely possible Spirit Airlines may shelve the policy at some point.  When your company screws up in such epic ways and needs to do a hard 180, here are some key principles to keep in mind:

Self-deprecation = PR gold.  By simply saying “look, we screwed up on this one, and I hope we haven’t lost our customers confidence,” Mr. Baldanza can easily undo half the damage wrought by the fees.  People love it when nasty CEOs are willing to admit mistakes, and this situation is no exception.

If you take from your customers, then give back in equal – or better – measure.  Just saying you’re sorry is ok, but try to go (fly?) the extra mile.  Spirit Airlines could pick one day a week to waive all baggage fees.  Turn it into a promotion, like “Bag Free Monday.”  Even if it isn’t a high-traffic day, customers will appreciate being cut some slack.  Communicating true contrition requires action, not just words.

Déjà-vu all over again.  If your company comes to its senses and ditches a controversial policy, then don’t try to breathe life into it again.  No matter how you spin it, your customers will see through your corporate nonsense and be doubly angered.  This time you’ll lose them for good, so play on the straight and narrow.

The Blog Aesthetic just gave you thousands of dollars of free advice, Mr. Baldanza.  Maybe we’re just happy it’s spring, but either way, enjoy it while it lasts – so get to work!

Crisis Corner: Spirit Airlines’ New Baggage Fee Angers Customers, the Government – Who’s Next?

April 12th, 2010

Much has been said about Spirit Airlines’ proposal to charge passengers $45 for any regular carry-on baggage.  Instead of rehashing the pros/cons of this new policy, let’s analyze the company’s move from the public relations standpoint:

Think before inciting controversy.  Airlines lost a staggering amount of money last year, yet it’s amazing how tone-deaf they are in announcing remedial measures to capture lost income.  Just think back to Ryanair’s proposals to charge passengers to use the airplane bathroom, or to force passengers to stand during flights.  If the new policy will likely incite controversy, then huddle with your publicist and think 10 steps ahead to anticipate how your customers will react.  Don’t get caught flat-footed by an easily repeatable/re-tweetable meme.  Standing on flights, really…

Media training is exercise to prevent foot-in-mouth syndrome.  Now that we know why these policies generate radioactive criticism, we must understand how to avoid saying really, really stupid things.  Media training will help the spokesperson nuance the message to minimize blowback.  Customers cringe when they hear about new inflated fees, so don’t patronize them as CEO Ben Baldanza did by saying something this idiotic: “The beauty of [the $45 fee] is [passengers] will do what they think is best for them and will now have the choice.” Um, “choice”?  What about choosing not to anger and alienate your customers?

Different PR disciplines are needed to deal with different PR problems.  What started as Spirit Airlines’ need for crisis management has now morphed into a public affairs issue, as DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer both criticized the new fee.  Indeed, LaHood clearly is contemplating some regulatory response, given that he thinks Spirit Airlines doesn’t “care about their customers.”

Most companies understand the importance of PR, but what Spirit Airlines shows us is the importance of hiring publicists who can wear multiple hats.  Don’t roll out your controversial policy until you’re sure you’ve got all your PR bases covered.