Spirit Airlines

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"Spirit Air" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Air spirit or Spirit of Manila Airlines.
Spirit Airlines
Spirit airlines logo14.png
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded 1980 (as Charter One)
Operating bases
Frequent-flyer program FREE SPIRIT
Fleet size 98[1]
Destinations 60[2]
Company slogan Less money. More go.
Headquarters Miramar, Florida, U.S.
Key people
Revenue Increase US$ 2.32 billion (2016)[3]
Operating income Decrease US$ 443.66 million (2016)
Net income Decrease US$ 264.88 million (2016)[3]
Total assets Increase US$ 3.152 billion (2016)
Total equity Increase US$ 1.395 billion (2016)
Website spirit.com

Spirit Airlines, Inc. (NASDAQSAVE) is an American Ultra Low Cost Carrier, headquartered in Miramar, Florida. Spirit operates scheduled flights throughout the United States and in the Caribbean, Mexico, Latin America, and South America. The airline operates bases at Atlantic City, Chicago–O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale and Las Vegas as of 2015.


Early years (1964-2006)[edit]

The company initially started as Clipper Trucking Company in 1964.[4] The company changed its name to Ground Air Transfer, Inc., in 1974.[5] The airline service was founded in 1980 in Macomb County, Michigan, (by Ned Homfeld) as Charter One,[5] a Detroit-based charter tour operator providing travel packages to entertainment destinations such as Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and the Bahamas. In 1990, Charter One began scheduled service from Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, to Atlantic City. On May 29, 1992, Charter One brought jet equipment into the fleet and changed its name to Spirit Airlines.[6] Scheduled flights between Detroit and Atlantic City began on June 1, 1992.[6] Scheduled flights between Boston and Providence began on June 15, 1992.[6]

On April 2, 1993, Spirit Airlines began scheduled service to Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and St. Petersburg, Florida.[7] Flights between Atlantic City and Fort Myers, Florida, began on September 25, 1993.[8] Service at Philadelphia began in 1994.[9] During the next five years, Spirit expanded further, increasing service from Detroit and adding service in new markets such as Myrtle Beach, Los Angeles, and New York City.

In Summer 1994, Spirit Airlines overbooked flights, and 1,400 customers' tickets were canceled.[10] The overbooking occurred because Spirit Airlines had given incorrect instructions to travel agents, causing those tickets not to be valid, even though the customers had paid for the flights.[10] In response to criticism, Spirit Airlines said it would make sure all paid customers would always be able to fly to their destination, even if Spirit Airlines had to book them on a competitor's airline.[10]

Spirit initially had their headquarters in Eastpointe, Michigan (formerly East Detroit) in Greater Detroit.[11] It relocated its headquarters in November 1999, moving to Miramar, Florida in the Miami Metropolitan Area.[12] Prior to the decision to move the headquarters to Miramar, Spirit considered Atlantic City, New Jersey and Detroit, Michigan.[13]

In 2000, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed to fine Spirit Airlines $67,000 for allegedly violating federal regulations on cabin and seat markings and placards. Discrepancies were found in the marking and placarding of emergency equipment, passenger seats, storage areas and doors on eight of Spirit's DC9 and MD80 aircraft.

In November 2001, Spirit inaugurated service to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and implemented a fully integrated Spanish-language customer service plan including a website and dedicated reservation line.

In the fall of 2003, Spirit resumed flights to Washington, D.C.'s Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which were suspended after the September 11 attacks. Spirit also began service to Grand Cayman, San Francisco, and Boston in 2006, and in 2007 filed DOT applications to offer service to Costa Rica, Haiti, the Netherlands Antilles and Venezuela.

In 2006, Spirit exercised options to order 30 Airbus A320-200 aircraft for further expansion. Deliveries began in March 2010.

Transition to ultra low cost carrier and pilot strike (2007-2010)[edit]

Spirit DC-9-40 number N130NK, in old livery, lands at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts.

On March 6, 2007, Spirit began a transition to an ultra low-cost carrier. Their initial plan was to begin charging US$10 per checked bag for the first two bags, $5 if bags are reserved before 24 hours prior to the flight, in addition to charging $1 for drinks which were previously complimentary.

On June 3, 2008, Spirit Airlines made a WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice) application to potentially relocate or lay off hundreds of pilots and flight attendants, and the closure of their San Juan and LaGuardia crew bases.[14] In September 2008, Spirit began advertising on the side of aircraft, overhead bins, tray tables, seatback inserts and bulkheads.[15]

In May 2009, Spirit pilots overwhelmingly voted in favor of strike action (98% of votes) due to stalled contract negotiations with management. Areas of dispute included compensation, work rules and benefits. At that time, Spirit pilots were among the lowest paid Airbus pilots in the United States.

On June 20, 2010, Spirit Plus was rebranded as "Big Front Seat" and business class service was discontinued. For an additional fee, a person could choose "Big Front Seat", or upgrade at the airport. In December 2010, Spirit Airlines introduced the Free Spirit World MasterCard.[16]

On June 12, 2010, Spirit grounded its flights when its unionized pilots walked out on strike, stranding thousands of passengers.[17] The ultimately successful pilot strike came after more than four years of inconclusive negotiations between the airline and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents Spirit's pilots. On June 15, negotiations between the airline and ALPA resumed, and a tentative agreement was reached late in the evening on June 16. The tentative agreement, which Spirit pilots later ratified by a 74% margin, brought the Spirit pilots' compensation and benefits in line with comparable U.S. Airbus operators. Flights eventually resumed.[18] Of particular note, is that this was the first legal industrial action (strike) by U.S. ALPA represented pilots since 2005 (Polar Air Cargo), and the first passenger airline strike by U.S. ALPA represented pilots since 2001 (Comair).

Spirit Airbus A320 number N641NK at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport, prior to boarding.


In April 2012, citing the airline's strict refund policy, Spirit Airlines representative Misty Pinson announced that the airline would not issue a refund to dying veteran Jerry Meekins, who had purchased a non-refundable ticket between Florida and Atlantic City.[19] The 76-year-old Vietnam veteran and former Marine tried to get his $197 back after learning his esophageal cancer was terminal and being told by his doctor not to fly.[20] The decision caused outrage among veterans' groups and the general public, some of whom threatened to boycott Spirit unless both a refund and apology were issued. On May 4, Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza apologized for how the situation was handled and personally refunded Meekins' ticket. Additionally, the airline made a $5000 donation to the Wounded Warrior Project in Meekins' name.[21]

In February 2012, Spirit Airlines established a crew and maintenance base at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada.[22] On December 1, 2012, the airline opened a flight attendant and pilot crew base at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.[23]

On Monday, July 1, 2013, a Spirit Airlines jetliner came within two miles of a skydiving aircraft, but was found by the FAA to be in full regulatory compliance.[24] In August 2013, Spirit reached an agreement on a new five-year deal with TWU, who represent the airline's flight dispatchers.

On August 7, 2014, Spirit Airlines began new service out of Kansas City, Missouri to five destinations.[25] In November 2014, Morgan Stanley named Spirit the top growth airline pick for investors.[26]

In January 2016, Baldanza stepped down as CEO in order to relocate from Florida, replaced with former Air Tran CEO Robert L. Fornaro.[27] Fornaro has stated that he's interested in merging Spirit with its main rival, Frontier Airlines.[28] If the 2 carriers were to merge, it would create the single largest ultra-low cost carrier in the Americas.[29]

On February 16, 2016, Ned Homfeld, founder of Charter One, which would become Spirit Airlines, died of treatment complications related to leukemia.[30]

Service concept[edit]

Spirit Airlines Check In At O'Hare International Airport


Spirit follows an ultra low-cost fare model that decouples elements and perks that are often included in the base ticket price of traditional carriers. Passengers that want to customize their itinerary or flight experience pay an add-on fee for each additional feature, which enables the carrier to earn ancillary revenue in excess of 40% of total revenue.[31] These include having an agent print a boarding pass at check-in versus doing it online or at a kiosk,[32] for any large carry-on or checked bags, progressive fees for overweight bags, selected seat assignments, travel insurance, and more.[33]

On October 1, 2007, Spirit began to charge $3 for all drinks.[34] [35] On June 21, 2011, Spirit began charging a $5 fee to passengers who have their boarding passes printed at a check-in desk.[36]

On April 6, 2010, USA Today reported that Spirit would charge for carry-on bags on flights starting August 1, 2010, purchased after April 6, 2010. Bags that fit under the seat and measure 16"x14"x12" are still free but passengers wanting to bring larger bags to put in overhead bins are charged.[37] In October 2011, Spirit reduced the weight limit for checked luggage from 50 pounds per bag to 40 pounds per bag, charging $25 for the first 9 extra pounds, and up to $100 for bags approaching 59 pounds over the 40 pound limit.[35] On June 19, 2014, Spirit Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to temporarily increase their checked baggage fees. The airline increased the checked bag fees by $2 in order to encourage passengers to bring fewer checked bags. For tickets purchased between 6/19/14 through 8/18/14, the first checked bag fee at the airport is $47, the second checked bag is $57.[38]

In 2011, Spirit Airlines became the first U.S. airline to charge passengers for carry-on bags. They were later followed by Allegiant Air and Frontier Airlines.


  • A Department of Transportation Statistics report concluded that in 2008 Spirit had the highest number of complaints per passenger among U.S. airlines that carry more than 5 million passengers.[39]
  • On Thursday September 17, 2009, the Federal Aviation Administration fined Spirit Airlines $375,000 for violating the agency's consumer protection regulations, including not compensating bumped passengers, violating various rules regarding delayed baggage compensation, and not including fees in advertised fares.[40]
  • Spirit Airlines has received generally extremely negative reviews from passengers. In January 2013, Skytrax Airline Quality Research downgraded Spirit Airlines to a ranking of 2 out of 5 stars.[41]
  • Spirit Airlines has been accused of racial discrimination against its passengers.[42][43]


Spirit currently flies to 57 destinations throughout Central America, the Caribbean, South America, and the United States. As of June 2015, It maintains crew bases at Atlantic City, Chicago–O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, and Las Vegas.[44]


Spirit Airlines Airbus A320 moments from touching down at Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport, the main operating base of Spirit Airlines. This plane is painted in the early 2010s livery.


Spirit Airlines Airbus A321 taxiing into take-off position at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. This plane is painted in the newest "taxi" livery, introduced in fall 2014.

The Spirit Airlines all-Airbus fleet consists of the following aircraft (as of January 2017):

Spirit Airlines current fleet[1]
Aircraft In Service Orders Seats Notes
B E Total
Airbus A319-100 31 0 10 135 145 14 to be retired by 2021: 2017 (1), 2018 (2), 2019 (1), 2020 (5), 2021 (5) [45]
Airbus A320-200 45 10 4 174 178
8 174 182 Deliveries through 2019: 2017 (4), 2018 (5), 2019 (1) [45]
Airbus A320neo 5 50 8 174 182 Deliveries began autumn of 2016; First US airline to fly the A320neo.
Airbus A321-200 18 12 4 214 218
8 220 228 Deliveries through 2018: 2017 (8), 2018 (5) [45]
Total 99 72

On 7 October 2016 Spirit Airlines took delivery of its first (of 55) Airbus A320neo aircraft and became the first US operator of the type.[46]

Spirit Airlines Airbus A319 touching down at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. This plane is painted in the grayscale livery of the mid-2000s.


The following aircraft no longer operate in the Spirit Airlines fleet:

Spirit Airlines historical fleet
Aircraft Total Year retired Replacement
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-20 3 2006 Airbus A320 Family
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 13 2006 Airbus A320 Family
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-40 2 2006 Airbus A320 Family
McDonnell Douglas MD-81 7 2006 Airbus A320 Family
McDonnell Douglas MD-82 14 2006 Airbus A320 Family
McDonnell Douglas MD-83 15 2006 Airbus A320 Family
McDonnell Douglas MD-87 2 2006 Airbus A320 Family

Advertising campaigns[edit]

Over the years, Spirit has worked to get publicity, good and bad, by exploiting controversial current events.


In 2006, the airline released a “Hunt for Hoffa” advertising campaign with the tagline “Help us find Hoffa with our Hunt for Hoffa game and enjoy fares from just $39 each way.” The point of the game was to dig for American labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa’s body by clicking grids on the airline’s website, and “winners” were taken to another webpage, saying "You found Hoffa!" thanking them for assisting the National Spirit Sale Center find the union leader’s body.[47] Within hours of the campaign debuting, the airline received a large number of complaints. The promotion was quickly taken down and changed to another promotion, simply titled Happy Sale. This promotion was later listed as #8 on CNN Money’s 101 Dumbest Moments in Business that year.[48]


In December 2007, the airline released a sale with the acronym MILF, standing for “Many Islands, Low Fares.” Online and TV media picked up on this and noted that MILF was popularized in the movie American Pie. This controversy was covered on CBS and ABC News, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and The O'Reilly Factor.[49]


In April 2008, the airline sent an email to its marketing subscription list announcing “We’re having a threesome. Join us in the fun.” Offering "three sales in one," the email repeatedly proposes the "threesome."[50]


On January 8, the airline reintroduced the MILF Special, described as meaning "Many Islands, Low Fares".

On December 2, shortly after a well publicized car accident involving golfer Tiger Woods, Spirit launched lowered fares in a promotion called the "Eye of the Tiger Sale". Imagery for the campaign featured an SUV crashing into a fire hydrant, with a tiger leaning out the driver's side window.[51]


On February 2, the airline offered the "Many Unbelievably Fantastic Fares (MUFF) to Diving Destinations" promotion. Many of their prominent Caribbean or Floridian destinations were featured.

In June, the airline offered the "Check Out The Oil On Our Beaches" promotion. The ad was in reference to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest in United States history.[52]

In August, the airline offered the "Don't Be Blue, Slide Down To Low Fares with Double Fisted Savings". The ad was in reference to an incident aboard a JetBlue flight where a flight attendant deployed an emergency slide and left the aircraft with two bottles of beer. Imagery for the ad featured an opened aircraft door and a flight attendant going down an emergency slide with two beer bottles.[53]


On January 12, the airline offered a promotion entitled "Free at Last! Free at Last! Air travel is Free at Last!", which applied for travel the following weekend, celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Spirit made a "Go south" Valentine's Day themed ad showing a woman in a bikini and placed a candy heart with the initial "VD" on her crotch, poking fun at venereal disease.

Shortly afterwards, Spirit made another Valentine's themed ad comparing a diamond ring to vacation packages (while saying "Why not slip her a big package") then showing a gift box directly in front of a man's crotch.

On June 7, amidst the Anthony Weiner Twitter photo scandal, Spirit offered "The Weiner Sale: With Fares Too HARD To Resist." The email promotion included the subject line "Want To See Our Weiner?"


Spirit capitalized on the Summit of the Americas prostitution scandal by featuring an advert with women in pink bikinis, around an agent implying secrecy, and the slogan "More Bang for your Buck" for flights to Cartagena, Colombia – the location of the scandal – as well as other destinations. Colombian officials complained, and Spirit removed the ad after its scheduled 36-hour run.[54]


In November 2013, Spirit advertised flights to the Greater Toronto area (Niagara Falls NY) using an ad reading "Flights to Toronto for $29.99, we're not smoking crack." This campaign was launched following Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's admission to smoking crack cocaine, along with many other behavioral issues that got media attention across Canada and the United States.


On November 21, 2013, Spirit Airlines flight 404 from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta had to make an emergency landing after a passenger with autism was screaming and throwing objects at passengers. After shouting various threats, the man was removed from the plane by police and the aircraft was evacuated.[55]


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  6. ^ a b c Wittkowski, Donald. "Small Airline Expands A.C. Flights with Jets". The Press of Atlantic City. May 30, 1992.
  7. ^ Wittkowski, Donald. "Fly to Fla. and Return for $140: Airline to Start A.C. Service". The Press of Atlantic City. March 14, 1993.
  8. ^ "Spirit Expands Fla./Atlantic City Air Service". The Press of Atlantic City. September 5, 1993.
  9. ^ Belden, Tom. "Atlanta-based Line Plans Phila. Flights". The Philadelphia Inquirer. April 12, 1994.
  10. ^ a b c Sangiacomo, Michael. "Spirit Airlines Pledges That Anyone With Ticket Will Fly". The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio). June 8, 1994.
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  13. ^ Hemlock, Doreen. "Spirit Airlines to Relocate from Detroit Area to South Florida." Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. March 17, 1999. Retrieved on December 17, 2009.
  14. ^ New York Business News – Business, Money, Financial & Corporate News Business News | NBC New York. Wnbc.com. Retrieved on 2011-10-21.
  15. ^ Hugo Martin (21 May 2010). "Are carry-on bag fees hurting Spirit Airlines?". Los Angeles Times. LAtimes.com. Retrieved 2013-01-09. 
  16. ^ "Spirit Airlines World MasterCard® Credit Card". Bank of America. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
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  20. ^ Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET (2010-04-07). "Spirit Airlines' boss calls industry-high complaint rate 'irrelevant,' says dying veteran should've bought insurance". Fox News. Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
  21. ^ Joshua Rhett Miller (2010-04-07). "Spirit bows to pressure: Airline CEO to refund dying veteran's fare". Fox News. Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
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  24. ^ "Detroit Spirit Jet, Skydiving Plane's Close Call In The Air Prompts FAA Probe". Huffingtonpost.com. 2013-06-28. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
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  28. ^ "ANALYSIS: New Spirit chief refuels Frontier merger rumours". 6 January 2016. 
  29. ^ Levine-Weinberg, Adam (1 November 2016). "Spirit Airlines Gets a New CEO: Reading Between the Lines -- The Motley Fool". 
  30. ^ Witsil, Fred. "Ned Homfeld: Spirit Airlines founder dies, went to U-M". Detroit Free Press. February 24, 2016.
  31. ^ http://www.frontiermagazine.co.uk/news/spirit-airlines-tops-global-ancillary-revenue-per-pax-rankings-21-07-2016/
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  34. ^ SpiritAir.com Archived November 15, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
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  46. ^ "A320 neos in the US". Airliner World (December 2016): 16. 
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  50. ^ Gorell, Robert (2007-04-01). "Spirit Airlines Proposes a Threesome With Me". Spirit Airlines Proposes a Threesome With Me. Future Now (grokdotcom.com). Retrieved 2008-04-20. 
  51. ^ Spirit Airlines' Tiger Woods Ad (PHOTOS). Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved on 2011-10-21.
  52. ^ "Spinning the spill, for fun and profit". Yahoo News. 2010-06-23. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  53. ^ Spirit Airlines – cheap tickets, cheap flights, discount airfare, cheap hotels, cheap car rentals, cheap travel. Marketing.spiritair.com. Retrieved on 2011-10-21.
  54. ^ "Spirit Airlines pulls 'More bang for your buck' ad that spoofed Secret Service". MSNBC. 21 April 2012. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  55. ^ "Passenger making threats removed from plane". 2013-11-24. 

External links[edit]