Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines is coming to KCI

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04/22/2014 4:01 PM

05/19/2014 1:44 PM

Spirit Airlines, which offers “ultra low base fares,” is coming to Kansas City International Airport. The Kansas City Aviation Department, city and civic leaders, and an unidentified airline executive will make the official announcement in Terminal C at the airport today.

City officials declined to comment Tuesday except to say that a new airline is coming.

Spirit also didn’t comment but posted on its website Kansas City flights to Chicago O’Hare, Dallas, Detroit, Houston and Las Vegas with connections to other cities. No other service details were available.

The entry of Spirit promises new competition for Southwest Airlines, which has become the dominant carrier in Kansas City with more than 40 percent of the market. It creates the possibility for travelers that the two airlines will directly compete for business to such cities as Chicago.

The last carrier to start service at KCI was Alaska Airlines about two years ago, the Aviation Department said. Alaska offers one flight a day to Seattle.

The largest U.S. carriers not already serving KCI are JetBlue Airways and, until now, Spirit.

Spirit, headquartered in Miramar, Fla., uses Airbus planes on routes in the U.S. and Latin America, including the Caribbean. It boasts of low fares but crams more seats, which don’t recline, into a plane. It also has myriad fees including for carry-on bags, soft drinks and assigned seats.

A report released last week by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that Spirit had more passenger complaints than any other U.S. carrier from 2009 to 2013. The report was based on U.S. Department of Transportation data.

“Spirit Airlines, which markets itself as a low-cost, no-frills airline, generated the most complaints per 100,000 passengers every single year in the study, by a large margin,” the consumer group said in its report.

Spirit executives said eight out of every 100,000 of the airline’s customers filed complaints with the Department of Transportation, which meant that about 99.99 of its customers didn’t complain. The airline said customers who had problems were probably not familiar with its business model.

“Many of the DOT complaints about Spirit are driven by our customers not fully understanding that we offer unbundled fares that let them control how much they spend,” the carrier said in response to the consumer group report. “In 2013, we had a total of 1,021 DOT complaints and served over 12 million customers. While we want every customer to have a great experience, eight complaints per 100,000 enplanements is a pretty small number.”

Spirit, according to its website, was founded in 1964 as Clippert Trucking Co., a Michigan corporation, and in 1974 changed its name to Ground Air Transfer Inc. In 1983, it started doing business as Charter One, a Detroit-based tour operator providing travel packages to destinations such as Atlantic City, Las Vegas and the Bahamas.

In 1992, Charter One changed its name to Spirit Airlines, brought jet equipment into the fleet, and began scheduled passenger service to destinations such as Fort Lauderdale, Detroit, Myrtle Beach, Los Angeles and New York.

Spirit, which is publicly traded, moved its headquarters to Miramar in December 1999. Spirit reported a profit of $43.2 million in the fourth quarter last year, and full-year earnings of $177 million.

The Star’s Kevin Collison contributed to this story.

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