Why are airlines trying so hard to own Spirit Airlines?

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What happens when your brand reflects cheap-o performance, bare-bones service, and routine problems and inconveniences—so much so that you’re too much of an ongoing joke of your industry?

If you’re Spirit Airlines, what happens is that you find yourself the subject of a bidding war. Indeed, this week JetBlue doubled down on that conclusion, Establishment Spirit for its prior $31.50 per share cash offering for $33.50, a bargain price estimated $3.7 billion, JetBlue’s interest follows a $2.9 billion offer for budget carrier Frontier’s Spirit back in february, (Spirit has postponed a shareholder vote on that deal as it considers JetBlue’s bid. The Frontier offering will involve a mix of cash and stock, and is now priced somewhat lower as its share price declined. Is.)

It may seem odd that the soul, a complaint magnet And punchline Over the years, suddenly air-travel seems to be the fiddle of the ball. Certainly some travelers are perplexed. “Hey, JetBlue shareholders,” wrote one commenter. Washington Post Article about the news. “Have you ever flown on Spirit? Worst flying experience in many of my 70-year career…..and you want to pay a premium for that?” Another adds: “Why?? The soul is the fire of the dustbin.”

Among the curious, apparently, are JetBlue customers. “Many of you have been asking us about JetBlue’s proposal to acquire Spirit Airlines,” CEO Robin Hayes wrote in a recent email to TrueBlue (frequent flier) members of the company, of “benefits.” This deal will create for it to make the list. valued customer. These include a vastly expanded network of destinations, but JetBlue also promises service expansion and perks like better legroom and free snacks — which it looks like will overhaul the Spirit fleet and incorporate the brand into JetBlue. (Those details aren’t actually spelled out in the acquisition scenario.)

But it would be a mistake to conclude that what is really being targeted here is a collection of paths of the spirit. Instead, the unexpected bidding war speaks to both the astonishing and counter-intuitive power of the Spirit brand – and the current, and perhaps future, position of air travel brands in general as the industry struggles to return to pre-pandemic volumes. does.

as i have done noted earlierDespite its reputation as the “flying waffle house,” Spirit has actually been a fairly profitable business. This is contrary to common sense that a punching-bag brand can’t live up to a market winner—but that’s because common sense can be wrong. There is often a huge gap between what consumers want and how they actually behave. Spirit felt it had a client base that would do a lot to save a penny, and it turned it into “a great business,” as one consultant told me. “Spirit is consistently incredibly profitable,” agreed another airline business supervisor. If this late night show comes at the cost of being a constant source of jokes and memes, so be it.

At the same time, a (not so) funny thing happened as the entire airline industry wrestled with staffing issues, sly customerand other business unrest The demand for travel has increased back to pre-pandemic levels. dealing with any The airline has become increasingly sinister. Airports are stressful too, and delay is increasing At least since Memorial Day. just this week united dropped 12% of its Newark flights, and American Told It will stop flying to Dubuque, Iowa and three other smaller cities. Flight cancellation stories by thousandsAnd furious travelers rage at the outrageous delays and reprehensible customer service (hold four hours or more, for example) have become regular. “I’ll never take JetBlue again!” A furious customer stuck at JFK for 48 hours after recent cancellation said New York Post, ,I’ll leave before I fly in JetBlue!”

But before you worry about the airline business crashing, please note that dissatisfied customers numbers aside, it’s working fine. Since April, the major carriers have consistently noted higher rentAnd Estimate returns to profitability, Last month, both JetBlue and Southwest Signal Higher than expected quarterly revenue ahead. Perhaps this is one reason why, while brands are known to be courteous and remorseful in responding to customer complaints on Twitter, that Doesn’t always work with airlinesIn a tweet that went viral, Delta flat-out told One caving consumer “Calm down and give me some time to work.” Obviously the customer issue was eventually resolved, but it’s hard to miss the message that airlines won’t be bothered about your business anytime soon. At this point, Spirit’s infamous just-deal-with-it brand rep doesn’t look like an outlier; It looks like standard procedure for the entire industry. No wonder JetBlue can overcome the perceived risks of acquiring the “Dumpster Fire” brand.

Back in 2020, I guessed In a hyper-competitive environment punctuated by less pandemic-era travel, airlines may need to up their branding and customer care game. Maybe that was true for a time, but that time seems to have passed. Now the opposite is true: more than ever, airline brands, with the exception Avelo. like some newcomers, have become almost interchangeable. Swear “never again” on any carrier you want—but there’s little guarantee you won’t have as much experience with whichever rival you choose. Backtracking during a pandemic only limits your options (as will, of course, any merger now or in the future).

In retrospect, the wisest comment I’ve heard about airline brands came in response to a widely reported outrage a few years ago about a passenger being physically dragged off a United flight. That prompted calls for the carrier’s boycott. “I’ll never fly United again,” saturday night liveColin Josto Told During the “Weekend Update” segment of the show at the time. “They don’t have cheap flights wherever I’m going.” That’s the attitude JetBlue — and the rest of the airline business — is counting on.

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