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Spirit Airlines Throws Temper Tantrum, Hikes Fees

February 3, 2012 at 1:17 PM | by | ()

It seems like only Monday when we were saying that it might be a bad idea to force airlines—some of whom barely have a pulse, as exemplified by the American Airlines bankruptcy—to give up on all the ways they've invented to make money. No one denies that some airline fees are insanely grating, and we complain about them as much as anyone, but with the airline industry recovering from the worst decade ever, maybe this isn't the perfect time for heavy-handed government brainstorming. No one wants a repeat of the tarmac delays debacle, after all.

Naturally the Department of Transportation has chosen now to pass a series of new regulations, including a ban on ticket-change fees for changes made within 24 hours of booking. And we could be doing a post about whether those are bad ideas in theory or in practice or in both. But instead we're going to write about the reaction of Spirit Airlines to the DOT's decision. Because if theRyanair of North America has a specialty, it's in taking something mildly obnoxious and completely owning it.

In reaction to the new regulation, Spirit is imposing a $2 "Dept. of Transportation Unintended Consequences Fee" on all tickets. Their talking point is that "consumers have a right to know that this misguided regulation is expensive and is hitting consumers directly in their pocket books." To be clear: they're petulantly lashing out at the government by charging all customers an additional $2 on all tickets. Cute. Stupid. But undeniably cute.

Let's pause here for three reminders. One, Spirit pushes fees much more aggressively than other airlines, from their carry-on fees—which have been periodically hiked—all the way to fees for buying your ticket online or checking yourself in at the airport. Two, the airline's attention-whoring ranges from being tactless about politics to being tactless about celebrities to being tactless about natural disasters to showcasing boobs and penises. Three, Spirit is aggressively unfriendly to its customers.

So the new fee ban was in some ways a perfect storm, hitting Spirit in the pocketbook while giving them an excuse to get attention at their customers' expense.

The airline was already delightfully pissy over the new transparency laws that force them to disclose the actual prices of their tickets, including taxes and fees (not a surprise given how they've been fined for dishonestly advertising airfares before). The new rule seems to have put them on tilt. It's the equivalent of giving a teacher giving the whole class time-out until someone admits to shooting that spitball.

Depressingly, this temper tantrum probably isn't going to cost Spirit any customers. $2 won't make or break a ticket price, which is how travelers overwhelmingly make their purchasing decisions. There's even an argument to be made that the stunt will help Spirit because—per the usual Ryanair playbook—it gets the airline attention while reinforcing its brand as a super-cheap airline. Unhelpful.

[Photo: Ivan Martinez / Wiki Commons]

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