PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With black and gold fanfare, Spirit Airlines started service in Pittsburgh last May.
“Pittsburgh has Spirit,” the airline’s vice president declared. “Black and gold. Well, yellow.”
The colors seem a perfect match.
But how about the commitment to Pittsburgh?
Spirit Airlines is relatively new to Pittsburgh, but its CEO says they’ve found a niche here.
And they are already expanding flights to Florida.
In addition to non-stop flights to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Spirit is adding once-a-day flights to Tampa and Fort Myers for the winter season.
“This Thursday we start new service from Pittsburgh to both Fort Myers and Tampa,” Robert Fornaro, Spirit’s CEO, told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.
Fornaro said their entry into Pittsburgh was bigger than normal.
“We’re trying to fill a niche, generally tied to leisure customers, but also to that small business person,” he said.
Besides the Florida flights — always popular in the winter — Spirit flies non-stop to four other cities, including Dallas-Fort Worth, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Myrtle Beach.
The discount airline offers no-frill travel — like Allegiant and Frontier that also fly out of Pittsburgh — where the customer pays for add-ons like using the overhead bins.
But Fornaro says some customers like the super cheap price.
As for future non-stops, Fornaro is looking to the west coast.
“Markets like San Francisco and Seattle, so I think those are markets we’ll consider as part of our next phase,” he said.
And Seattle — home to Amazon — is a near certainty if the company picks Pittsburgh for its second headquarters.
“I would say that’s a pretty good assumption,” Fornaro said.
Spirit Tackles Customer Concerns Over Reliability:
Despite the cheap fares, like $180 round-trip to Los Angeles, some are still reluctant to fly the no-frills airline.
“We’ve heard that they’re not always real reliable,” says Naomi Giesey.
Giesey recently moved from Greensburg to Orlando but won’t fly Spirit on trips home.
“We haven’t really gone with them as far as flying with them,” she adds.
“Are you hearing that, and what are you doing about it?” KDKA money editor Jon Delano asked Spirit’s CEO on Monday.
Fornaro: “Our first year was poor. We hadn’t met the expectations that we had told ourselves that we should meet.”
Delano: “You were near last.”
Fornaro: “We were near last in many categories, so we’ve made a commitment to pretty much change everything that we do.”
But Fornaro, who became CEO just two years ago, says those complaints don’t hold up today.
“We’ve dramatically improved,” he insists.
Customer complaints that Spirit Airlines is unreliable — doesn’t fly on time — are relics of the past, says the airline’s CEO, citing new evidence that this airline is number 2 in reliability across the nation.
Fornaro says a still unpublished U.S. Department of Transportation report from this October will show Spirit with an on-time record of 86.5 percent.
Maybe the airline has turned a corner.
Colleen Iams of Clarion, about to board Spirit for the first time, says she hasn’t heard anything negative.
“No I have not,” she said. “Should I have concerns?”
Dale Bricker of Ross is another first-time flyer on Spirit, attracted by the $81 roundtrip fare to Dallas.
“I have no concerns. To my knowledge, it has good service,” he says.
That’s true, says one repeat spirit customer.
“No bad experiences. It was all very pleasant. Comfortable. No, I was fine. Totally fine,” adds DeeDee Pearce of Cleveland.