From ULCC to high value carrier - Spirit’s new seats support its efforts to improve customer sentiment

1 October, 2019

The selection of new seating on Spirit Airlines’ future aircraft deliveries appears to be part of the carrier’s years long strategy to shore up more favourable customer sentiment. The airline’s CEO Ted Christie has pledged that Spirit has been on a three-year improvement process in the way it treats its customers, and it appears that the company is pivoting away from identifying itself as an ultra low cost airline.

Spirit CFO Scott Haralson has told Forbes that internally the airline no longer refers to itself as a ULCC, and instead management believes that Spirit is a high value carrier with the goal of making its guests feel like they get great value from the company’s low fares.

The airline recently opted for new seats on upcoming aircraft deliveries that appear to be somewhat more comfortable. The seats, scheduled to debut in the US autumn, feature an additional inch of pre-recline, more padding, and a middle seat with 18in width (window and aisle seats have 17in width). Additionally, Spirit is switching to full sized trays, and for its “Big Front Seat” offering it is adding headrests and memory foam.

Although Spirit’s efforts to improve the customer experience are driven in part by the introduction of basic economy offerings by its large airline competitors, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, the carrier would nevertheless have eventually needed to achieve a better standing with customers, given its years-long double digit growth rate in capacity.

The airline has also been working to improve operations as part of its push to improve customer service. During 2Q2019 Spirit’s on-time performance was 75.8%, which company executives said put the airline in the middle of the pack relative to other US airlines. Its completion factor during that period fell approximately one point, to 98.2%.

The Blue Swan Daily looked in more detail at Spirit’s new seating last month as well as its calls for the industry to ‘Ditch the Pitch’, a traditional measurement of aircraft comfort.

It describes this now as an “inadequate measurement of guest comfort and an outdated reference as seat innovation becomes more advanced”. Partnering with the Charted Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIHEF), it conducted in-depth analysis on the ergonomics and comfort of the new seats to create a comfortable posture and make available more usable legroom.

Spirit also conducted a research study to understand perceptions around seat pitch and seat comfort. The brand-agnostic study showed that most people, from a sampling of more than 1,000 air travellers, did not know the true definition of “seat pitch”, the space between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front of it. In fact, only about 5% of respondents were able to accurately describe seat pitch.