Spirit Airlines isn't the kind of airline most folks are used to flying. But company officials say regular travelers learn to like the service.
GREEN Officials with Spirit Airlines are confident the company's low fares combined with Northeast Ohio's general cold weather will have people filling up Airbus jets heading to Florida this winter.
And once local residents begin flying on Spirit, they will want to keep using the airline, predicts N. Paul Berry, the airline's director for communications, advertising and brand.
"We think air travel shouldn't be expensive," Berry said during an interview Wednesday. "We think that we can be the low cost leader by far."
On Nov. 10, Spirit will start daily flights to Florida, offering direct service to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Fort Myers and Tampa. Next April the airline plans to add Las Vegas as a daily destination, and it will begin seasonal service to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Spirit can connect travelers to destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico and South and Central America through its Fort Lauderdale station, Berry said.
The destinations are complimentary to the service Spirit has been offering from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport since January 2015, Berry said. The company's research indicates that travelers like the convenience offered at Akron-Canton and some will venture from the Cleveland area south to use the smaller airport.
Low fare history
Meanwhile, Akron-Canton's history of offering lower fares, especially to Florida, goes back 20 years to the days of ValuJet and AirTran.
For a time it appeared that Akron-Canton would lose its Florida connection. Southwest Airlines, which bought AirTran, ended direct flights to Florida last year. Allegiant Airlines, a vacation travel service, entered the market with limited Florida service but last week announced plans leave Akron-Canton for Hopkins.
Berry said Spirit doesn't make decisions based on the moves by Allegiant or other competitors. He said Allegiant's decision to move to Hopkins will have a neutral to positive impact on Spirit's service at Akron-Canton.
He points out that Spirit has a number of differences when compared with Allegiant. A big one is daily service, as opposed to flights two or three times per week. Both airlines are competing for vacation travelers, but Spirit also attracts small business travelers who are trying to save money, Berry said.
Spirit also has a newer jet fleet, he said. The company flies Airbus 319s, 320s, and 321s. It has 89 jets right now and will have 95 by the end of the year. Spirit has been adding one jet each month, Berry said.
Spirit contends it has maintained the lowest fares in the industry, with its average fare dropping since 2007. The company started a "bare fare" program in 2007, modeled after successful airlines in the European market, Berry said.
Using data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Spirit contends it had an average fare in 2015 of $72 one way, compared with the industry average of $150, Berry said. When adding in baggage fees and other extras, the average is $122 one way, compared with the industry average of $207.
The company's bare fare covers the seat and a personal item — a backpack, for example — that fits under the seat. A small carry-on bag costs $35, while a checked bag is $30. There also are fees if a passenger wants an assigned seat and other amenities.
Spirit sees it as giving customers a chance to choose the level of service they want. The pricing is more transparent and fair, Berry said, adding that travelers pay for an assigned seat and carry-on luggage on other airlines. "You're only paying for what you want. You're not paying for it if you don't want it," he said.
Hope for growth
Spirit's initial announcement of plans to fly from Akron-Canton only included the Florida destinations and Myrtle Beach service. The airline announced Las Vegas last week.
The airline always is looking at adding service, Berry said. Its goal is to be the lowest cost carrier, while remaining profitable in the markets it serves. There are many markets where Spirit is confident it can do that, he said.
Whether more service is added at Akron-Canton depends on how customers react. If planes fill up, service could be added, he said.
Spirit is working with an employment agency has begun interviewing potential employees. The company anticipates having about 20 people working at Akron-Canton.
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