Friday, May 4, 2012

Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish; Too Little, Too Late; and Other Cliches Given Lift-off by Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza gives the term “penny-wise, pound-foolish” new meaning. In the week since Baldanza adamantly refused to refund the unused plane ticket of a dying Marine whose doctor told him he was too sick to fly, Spirit’s stock has dropped X percent, almost 40,000 people have joined a Facebook group to boycott the airline, and a second group dedicated to ousting Baldanza has attracted more than 1,250 fans. “Facebook facilitated the fall of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak ... Now we must force Ben Baldanza out,” the group’s description reads.

In a crisis, time is of the essence. This is doubly true when one crisis comes on top of another (earlier this week, Spirit came under fire for its new bag fees; sample headline: “Spirit Airlines Figures Out How to Screw You Even Harder With Bag Fees”).

While Baldanza’s final actions—pledging to refund the $197 ticket and donate $5,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project—are commendable, they are too little, too late. What could have been contained offline through good, old-fashioned customer service has spread rapidly, and permanently, online. The damage will be difficult to reverse. Google [Spirit Airlines], and you’ll see stories from the Huffington Post, MSNBC, Mashable, Fox News, and more. Fox’s interview with the 76-year-old marine is particularly damaging: Spirit wouldn’t even allow him to transfer the ticket to his daughter. And “our calls and e-mails have gone unanswered,” notes the Fox reporter.

Where’s the video on YouTube from the CEO apologizing and explaining, a la BlackBerry? Where are the tweets from the flacks, a la Domino’s? And the e-mail to the hacks, a la Motrin? At the least, Spirit should have left a comment on the Facebook group. Instead, we get a press release buried within its website. Similarly disappointing: Spirit’s Twitter channel makes no mention of the controversy. Instead, it declares, “We’re going places and so should you!” “It’s time for beach sand and perfect tans.”

For a company with a(n admittedly tasteless) sense of humor—last year, amid the Anthony Weiner Twitter scandal, the company offered “The Weiner Sale: With Fares Too HARD to Resist”—you’d think they’d be friendlier in dealing with a cancer-stricken veteran trying to visit his daughter during her surgery.