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The Expert in Baby Boomer Travel

Travel Copywriter
Spirit interior cabin -- photo by Spirit Airlines

Spirit interior cabin — photo by Spirit Airlines

Interesting piece in today’s New York Times on the marketing approach employed by cut-rate Spirit Airlines. They’ve traded in customer service and comforts for low fares, and are charging extra for everything from rolling carry-on bags ($35-$50) to water ($3 a bottle) and more. Can pay toilets be far behind?

Meanwhile, Spirit’s on-time arrivals record is well below the industry average, there are no onboard movies or Wi-Fi, and seats are crammed in, offering less legroom even than the already legroom-deprived other airlines do. What’s more, the seats don’t recline – which, considering that someone reclining a seat in front of you may end up in your lap in these sardine-can conditions, may be a good thing.

So far the approach seems to be working. Spirit’s profits are growing, stock prices are up, and a fleet of new planes is planned for the future.

Let’s face it, everyone likes a low fare – unless the extra fees mount up too fast and cut into the savings. But my guess is that the typical Spirit repeat customer is not a baby boomer – as you get older, the extra legroom and reclining seats become more important, eclipsing the thrill of saving 50 bucks on a flight.

It all reminds me of another cut-rate, no-frills airline that I used to fly cross country back in the ‘90s when I lived in New York and still had an office in my previous home city of San Francisco. It was called Tower Airlines, and its customer service was abysmal. Once when one of its flights was delayed by hours, stranding scores of customers in the San Francisco airport, all the Tower agents locked themselves in a back office so they wouldn’t have to answer questions or complaints. Finally the airline just gave up and Tower collapsed, which was a merciful ending for everyone.

I haven’t flown Spirit Airlines, and assume it couldn’t be as bad as Tower. But I predict future troubles if at some point if they don’t loosen up that legroom and attract more baby boomers. Cut rates are one thing, cut-off leg circulation quite another.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone about where they come down on that trade-off: low fares vs. low comfort and customer service.

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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