Skin deep, or spiritual? It takes a lot to rebrand an airline, and it certainly takes more than a new livery. In fact, repainting its planes if anything presents a real challenge to the carrier to live up to what its new image may be trying to convey. The latest to try a new image (we won’t use the neologism ‘re-imaging’) is Spirit Air, the South Florida carrier that has been trying to position itself as the only real low-fares airline between the US and Latin America. Spirit calls itself an ‘ultra low fare’ carrier, and has run promotions with fares as low as $1, or some cases, free. The airline stresses ancillary services and sales as ways to boost revenues. The other week, Spirit unveiled a new paint scheme that it says emphasises that it is a leisure carrier and one specialising in Latin America.
Its last paint scheme, stemming from 2002, was intended to attract business travellers. Its passenger traffic through its Fort Lauderdale hub has grown by about 70% year on year, and this has produced what at best can be called growing pains. But the pains are not shared by Spirit’s customers, who made eight times as many complaints against Spirit to the DoT in July as they did in July 2006. The airline says it's just a growth issue, but it wins a lot of unwanted publicity for its seemingly frequent stumbles. Stuart Klaskin, a South Florida consultant with KKC Aviation, says, “It’s a shame, but they have a crap product. It’s the result of a weak and disorganised management”. Well, beauty is only skin deep.