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I Had Spirit, So Shouldn’t You

January 30, 2014
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Recently, we’ve spent a lot of time at Healthcare Informatics focusing on the cost of care, and health information technology’s (HIT) role in bringing forth transparency to a clouded industry. This is one of the more vital issues in healthcare, there’s no question about it.

Still, even though we understand the pricing transparency movement, it’s important to remember that a good sticker price isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In a capitalistic society, a superior end-user experience will triumph over even the greatest of bargains.

In other words, you get what you pay for.

A few weeks ago for MLK weekend, my fiancée and I flew out to Fort Lauderdale in Florida from LaGuardia Airport in New York City for a black-tie wedding.  Our flight left NYC in the afternoon and was slated to land in Fort Lauderdale at 7:30 pm.

Sadly, that didn’t happen; the flight was delayed by an hour and we didn’t land in Florida until about 8:45 pm. However, a delay is something everyone has dealt with when flying, so that wasn’t really an issue.

No, our problems began as soon as we landed in the Sunshine State. Let me back it up, by saying we took Spirit Airlines for the flight. If you aren’t familiar with Spirit, here’s a good article to catch you up. You can read it. I’ll wait.

Spirit Airlines is a self-proclaimed “budget” airline. Their prices are significantly cheaper than most of its competitors, often to the tune of $100-to-150 per trip. They make up for those cheap prices by putting fees on everything from carry-on luggage to water. You basically can’t breathe the wrong way on Spirit without being charged an extra five bucks.

(Fun side story: I took Spirit a year ago. Even though the flight was delayed, a guy in the terminal told me that they assessed him a “late fee” from Spirit. That’s what we’re dealing with here.)

The fees are abundant and slightly appalling when you hear CEO Ben Baldanza compare the airline to McDonald’s. Last time I checked, McDonald’s doesn’t charge its customers a fee when they ask for extra ketchup.

Yet, fees weren’t my problem with Spirit Airlines on this day. We actually prepared for the fees. We checked our baggage online earlier in the day, which you can do for a reduced rate. Still, it’s important to know that the fees make it so it is actually cheaper to get your bags checked than have a carry-on. Normally, we wouldn’t check our luggage for a weekend trip to Florida.

We land in Florida and lo and behold, the luggage we had to begrudgingly check in LaGuardia, was…still at LaGuardia airport. Apparently, a conveyor belt broke at LaGuardia, making it hard to load the luggage on the plane. Instead of waiting for another conveyor belt, and informing its customers why the plane was delayed (which it was anyway), Spirit instead knowingly took off for Florida with almost every piece of checked luggage back in LaGuardia.

Let me reiterate: the airline decided to knowingly leave our luggage behind. I can understand when an airline loses someone’s luggage. It’s obviously not ideal and I would have certainly been upset, but it’s something I can at least comprehend. This is not that.  

What happened next was a master’s class in how not to deal with angry customers. Granted, the people whose luggage was left behind weren’t going to be happy no matter what, but you can still treat them with respect and empathy.

Instead, the Spirit Airlines workers at the Fort Lauderdale airport were rude and uninformative. They legitimately seemed annoyed when people were peppering them with questions.

The worst, and I actually thought a mini-riot was about to break out because of this, was when one of the guys started laughing and smiling. This got many of the customers, who unfortunately were waiting for over an hour in line just to fill out a form, incredibly upset. I’m not sure what his thought process was, but I can guarantee it’s not something you’ll ever see in a customer service training video.

The next day, we got our luggage back. Thankfully, the black-tie wedding was at night, and last-second purchases were not necessary. I’m grateful for this because I am fairly certain that Spirit wouldn’t have reimbursed us.

Afterwards, I decided to complain through email—not something I do often or at all, but I thought it warranted some kind of notice. Obviously, I didn’t expect much, but somehow the “response” left me even more angered than before.

After about a 10-day delay, I got something in my email from Spirit. The nice thing would have been to reimburse us for the money we paid to have our luggage left behind. However, all I really wanted was a personalized message that showed someone at the company read it, and actually cared and felt bad. Instead, I got an automated message that addressed me as “Ms. Perna.”

Gee, thanks a lot Spirit!

(Side note: They did end up offering me a $50 voucher for a future Spirit flight, for which I have absolutely no use. That covers a one-way baggage fee.)

This was a long rant, but the moral of the story is the value for any service lies in the end-user experience. It’s simple, but often forgotten.