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Will JetBlue Take Away the One Thing People Like About Spirit?

The takeover of the budget airline raises a key question for consumers.

No one likes Spirit Airlines.

Okay, that’s probably an unfair statement. But if you were to, say, do a Google search for the phrase “why do people hate Spirit Airlines,” you’d certainly not be lacking for results, as a survey of airline social media mentions found that 69% of Spirit-related tweets were negative. 

The airline is frequently mocked on late night television and excoriated on Reddit. It’s become an easy go-to joke for comedians; and a few years ago Trevor Noah punctuated a joke about a runaway toddler riding a luggage belt by noting “I bet the kid found out his parents were flying Spirit, and he was like ‘oh hell no.’” 

Spirit’s  (SAVE)  alleged sins against travelers are legion, but they mainly come down to fees. 

You have to pay extra to bring on any piece of luggage bigger than a purse. You have to pay to get more legroom. A couple have to pay extra to confirm they are seated near each other. They charge you to print out your boarding pass, in some situations. Even a bottle of water costs three dollars. 

But to be fair to Spirit, the company doesn’t make any attempt to hide this stuff. Their fee structure is on the company’s website, and its pitch to customers is that the company isn’t charging anyone for things they might not use.

But obviously, if everyone truly hated a company, then no one would give it their business, and thus they would close. And the reason why Spirit has stayed in business for more than three decades is simple: it consistently has the lowest listed airfares around. (The exact amount a traveler might save via opting for Spirit over a different company varies by location, time of day and several other factors.)

Spirit sells you a cheap ticket, and according to some reports, makes up to 60% of its profit by selling you “extras” that are pretty standard in most other flights. While this approach no doubt rubs many customers the wrong way, there’s plenty of people who are willing to suck it up in spite of the poor customer ratings  

But if JetBlue’s  (JBLU)  purchase of Spirit does go through, it’s quite possible that the one thing customers like about the service will be going away.

JetBlue Will Acquire Spirit, Regulators Pending

JetBlue is set to acquire Spirit for $3.8 billion dollars. Frontier Airlines  (ULCC)  had been trying to purchase Spirit, but eventually lost out to JetBlue's higher offer.

If the deal is approved by Federal regulations, the merger would create the fifth-largest airline in the world, and according to a statement from the companies, it would serve as a "national low-fare challenger to the dominant big four airlines.” The company would be based in New York and overseen by JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes.

Under the terms of the agreement, JetBlue agreed to purchase Spirit for $33.50 per share in cash, which Travel Weekly notes is “well above the stock's selling price of approximately $24 as August began.” The Federal review process is expected to be finished by the first half of 2024. 

According to JetBlue, the merger will bring its fleet to 458 aircraft and allow it to fly to more than 125 destinations in 30 counties, and will give it more of a presence in major cities such as Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, San Juan, and Los Angeles.

JetBlue Spirit Lead JS

No More Rock Bottom Fares? 

It does seem that the merger may potentially get rid of the only thing people like about Spirit: the super low prices.

Workers at Spirit would likely see an increase in their wages. Investment analyst Savi Syth believes that “Spirit pilots will need an average rate increase of 27% to bring them up to JetBlue's pilot pay scale.” There’s a bit of a national pilot shortage going on in the industry at the moment, so Spirt’s pilots likely have quite a bit of leverage to demand higher wages, which could lead to higher ticket prices.

If the merger is approved, Jet Blue would begin converting the seating on Spirit's fleet of 176 Airbus narrowbodies. Spirit averages 182 seats in its Airbuses, compared to 157 for JetBlue, so the transition would be a costly process. It also suggests that JetBlue is willing to spend more to make the customer’s travel experience more pleasant. 

Whether or not that’s a good thing is a matter of opinion, but the days of cheap, arguably unpleasant Spirit flights might be coming to an end in the near future.