Spirit Airlines will be the first U.S. ultralow-cost carrier
to equip its aircraft with WiFi.
WiFi is to be rolled out on the first Spirit aircraft in the
fall. The carrier plans to have its entire fleet WiFi-equipped by the second
half of next year, Spirit president Ted Christie said.
"The best thing about it is it's going to enhance the
guests' onboard experience without affecting how we sell our product,"
Christie said. "We've managed to create a value enhancer and revenue
enhancer for Spirit without increasing our cost structure."
Christie declined to say how much it will cost to make the
airline's fleet of 119 Airbus narrowbody aircraft WiFi-ready, but said those
who choose to use the service will be the ones paying for it and that the
installation won't impact Spirit's basic airfares.
Spirit will offer WiFi at varying speeds and for varying
costs so that passengers can decide whether they want to pay more for a high-speed
streaming service or less for functionality that is only fast enough for less
intensive tasks, such as surfing the web.
WiFi will be offered at an average cost of $6.50 per flight,
with prices varying not only by the bandwidth a passenger chooses, but also by
route length and demand.
Spirit signed a contract Friday with French avionics company
Thales to provide its WiFi service.
Christie said the bandwidth will be fast enough to give
Spirit customers the same WiFi experience they have at home.
In adding WiFi, Spirit will beat out its ultralow-cost U.S.
competitors Frontier and Allegiant, whose aircraft aren't connected.
The introduction fits into a broader marketing effort that
Spirit unveiled Friday called Invest in the Guest. It's an initiative designed
to reverse the airline's reputation for being inexpensive but not customer-friendly.
"Spirit Airlines is all about evolution," Christie
said. "When we started, the core objective was to get the cost as low as
possible and drive low fares. Now we've focused on how do we evolve the model
in a way that can deliver value and customer satisfaction."
Spirit continues to fly tightly configured aircraft
featuring seats that don't recline and only 28 inches of space between rows -- fewer
than all U.S. airlines except Frontier. And it continues to draw more
complaints to the Department of Transportation per enplanement than any other
But the carrier has recently improved other customer service
elements. Spirit's on-time performance in February, the most recent month for
which the Bureau of Transportation Statistics has released data, was fourth
best among the 18 carriers tracked, continuing a trend of strong on-time
performance results since the fall. In addition, Spirit's mishandled-baggage
rate was the best in the U.S. industry in February.
Other recent customer-facing initiatives include a revamp of its website to make it more mobile-friendly, the
introduction of a check-in app and the introduction of self-bag tagging.