Spirit Airlines finds itself in an unusual position by winning best on-time performance for October. The carrier has a slightly more modest goal for the longer term — it wants to be in fourth to sixth place consistently — but even that is an improvement compared to a few years ago.
Spirit Airlines Inc., the tardiest U.S. airline only two years ago and a lightning rod for customer complaints, just won its first monthly title for the nation’s best on-time performance.
The discounter avoided late arrivals on 89 percent of its flights in October, edging out Hawaiian Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc., according to Department of Transportation data released Friday. Spirit’s best showing before that was second place, in November 2017.
“We’ve been evolving over the last couple of years here to transform our airline so I’m really excited for our team to get a No. 1,” said Greg Christopher, vice president of Spirit’s operations control center. “Going back three or four years ago it was a different story.”
Very different: Spirit ranked last in every month but one from May 2015 through May 2016. The airline suffered from high levels of canceled flights, and in many months generated more customer complaints than any of its rivals. But the airline was already starting to change after Spirit named board member Bob Fornaro to lead the company in early 2016 and tied executive compensation more closely to on-time arrivals.
One downside: Being the best on-time performer typically carries costs that can pressure discounters’ profits. Spirit’s own performance goal is to finish in fourth to sixth place for a year. Through October this year, the Miramar, Florida-based carrier ranked No. 4 with about 81 percent of flights on time. By that yardstick, Hawaiian Airlines won first place.
Spirit’s complaint rate of 2.46 per 100,000 passengers remained higher in October than average. Frontier Airlines had the highest rate, while Southwest Airlines Co. had the lowest among major carriers.
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Photo credit: Spirit Airlines planes are shown at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in May 2018. jtocchialini / Flickr