Spirit Airlines isn’t exactly a brand that generates warm feelings among most consumers. In fact, in a study of five years’ worth of airline passenger complaints, the budget U.S. airline generated more grievances than any other airline -- Spirit passengers were three times as likely to file a complaint as passengers flying with the runner-up, Frontier. Perhaps that’s why, last July, Spirit said it wanted to “hug the haters” by launching its “Hate Thousand Miles Giveaway” campaign, calling on travelers to share their biggest complaints about the airlines (including itself) in exchange for 8,000 Spirit frequent-flier miles.
Now, the results are in: Spirit says it received 30,000 responses and has compiled the results in what it calls its “State of the Hate” report. According to the airline, 60 percent of the responses were gripes about airlines other than Spirit -- an indication that “air travel is a hassle and annoys people, no matter which airline you fly,” it said in a statement.
"I think if any organization asks for feedback, you would expect the vast majority of responses would be directed at the company that seeks it," said Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza. "But in this case, we were surprised that most consumers chose to share their frustrations about other airlines."
The No. 1 complaint was airline seating: 20 percent of respondents named that as a cause for concern. Surprisingly, fees came in fifth place on the list of gripes, with just 12 percent of respondents citing it as a problem. (Spirit is notorious for charging fees for virtually every service other than the basic fare, dubbed in Spirit lingo “add-ons.”)
Full ranking of complaints in the report:
Lost bags: 16%
Canceled flights: 1%
The report also looked at which airlines were the biggest offenders in each complaint category. Southwest Airlines was called out for complaints about seats, United was highlighted for its poor service and, unsurprisingly, Spirit got the most complaints about fees.
The airline was unfazed by the dubious honor, arguing that its pricing structure is actually a way for consumers to save money.
“We don't look at them as fees; they are options that our customers can choose, or not, depending on how much money they wish to save," said Baldanza. "But this clearly shows we need to continue educating our customers about our business model. Our experience shows once customers understand how much money they save with our model, they like it a lot."