Spirit Airlines, Inc. is an American ultra-low-cost carrier headquartered in Miramar, Florida in the Miami metropolitan area. Spirit operates scheduled flights throughout the United States and in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The company initially started as Clippert Trucking Company in 1964. The company changed its name to Ground Air Transfer, Inc., in 1974. The airline service was founded in 1983 in Macomb County, Michigan, by Ned Homfeld as Charter One Airlines, a Detroit-based charter tour operator providing travel packages to entertainment destinations such as Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and the Bahamas.
In 1990, Charter One began scheduled service from Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, to Atlantic City. On May 29, 1992, Charter One brought jet aircraft into the fleet and changed its name to Spirit Airlines. Scheduled flights between Detroit and Atlantic City began on June 1, 1992. Scheduled flights between Boston and Providence began on June 15, 1992.
On April 2, 1993, Spirit Airlines began scheduled service to Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and St. Petersburg, Florida. Flights between Atlantic City and Fort Myers, Florida, began on September 25, 1993. Service at Philadelphia began in 1994. During the next five years, Spirit expanded further, increasing service from Detroit and adding service in new markets such as Myrtle Beach, Los Angeles, and New York City.
In the summer of 1994, Spirit Airlines overbooked flights, and 1,400 customers' tickets were canceled. The overbooking occurred because Spirit Airlines had given incorrect instructions to travel agents, causing those tickets not to be valid, even though the customers had paid for the flights. In response to criticism, Spirit Airlines said it would make sure all paid customers would always be able to fly to their destination, even if Spirit Airlines had to book them on a competitor's airline.
In 1996, Janet Patton became Spirit Airline's first woman pilot, and in 1998 she became the first woman captain. At the time Spirit was utilizing DC-9 and MD-80 aircraft.
Spirit initially had their headquarters in Eastpointe, Michigan (formerly East Detroit) in Metro Detroit. It relocated its headquarters in November 1999, moving to Miramar, Florida in the Miami Metropolitan Area. Prior to the decision to move the headquarters to Miramar, Spirit considered Atlantic City, New Jersey and Detroit, Michigan.
In 2000, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) fined Spirit Airlines $67,000 for allegedly violating federal regulations on cabin and seat markings and placards. Discrepancies were found in the marking and placarding of emergency equipment, passenger seats, storage areas and doors on eight of Spirit's DC9 and MD80 aircraft.
In November 2001, Spirit inaugurated service to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and implemented a fully integrated Spanish-language customer service plan including a website and dedicated reservation line.
In the fall of 2003, Spirit resumed flights to Washington, D.C.'s Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which were suspended after the September 11 attacks. Spirit also began service to Grand Cayman, San Francisco, and Boston in 2006, and in 2007 filed DOT applications to offer service to Costa Rica, Haiti, the Netherlands Antilles and Venezuela.
In 2006, Spirit exercised options to order 30 Airbus A320-200 aircraft for further expansion. Deliveries began in March 2010.
On June 3, 2008, Spirit Airlines made a WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice) application to potentially relocate or lay off hundreds of pilots and flight attendants, and the closure of their San Juan and LaGuardia crew bases. In September 2008, Spirit began placing advertisements on the side of aircraft, overhead bins, tray tables, seatback inserts and bulkheads.
In May 2009, after more than four years of inconclusive negotiations between the airline and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), Spirit pilots overwhelmingly (98% of votes) voted in favor of strike action over compensation, work rules, and benefits. At that time, Spirit pilots were among the lowest-paid Airbus pilots in the United States. On June 12, 2010, Spirit grounded its flights when its unionized pilots walked out on strike, stranding thousands of passengers. This was the first passenger airline strike by American ALPA-represented pilots since Comair in 2001. On June 15, negotiations between the airline and ALPA resumed, and a tentative agreement was reached late in the evening on June 16. The tentative agreement, which Spirit pilots later ratified by a 74% margin, brought Spirit pilots' compensation and benefits in line with comparable Airbus operators in the US. Flights eventually resumed on June 18.
In 2007, Spirit Plus was rebranded as "Big Front Seat" and business class service was discontinued. For an additional fee, a person could choose "Big Front Seat", or upgrade at the airport. In December 2010, Spirit Airlines introduced the Free Spirit World MasterCard.
In April 2010, Spirit Airlines became the first U.S. airline to charge passengers for carry-on bags. They were later followed by Allegiant Air and Frontier Airlines.
In April 2012, citing the airline's strict refund policy, Spirit Airlines representative Misty Pinson announced that the airline would not issue a refund to dying veteran Jerry Meekins, who had purchased a non-refundable ticket between Florida and Atlantic City. The 76-year-old Vietnam veteran and Marine tried to get his $197 back after learning his esophageal cancer was terminal and being told by his doctor not to fly. The decision caused outrage among veterans' groups and the general public, some of whom threatened to boycott Spirit unless both a refund and apology were issued. On May 4, Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza apologized for how the situation was handled and personally refunded Meekins' ticket. Additionally, the airline made a $5,000 donation to the Wounded Warrior Project in Meekins' name.
In August 2013, Spirit reached an agreement on a new five-year deal with the Transport Workers Union of America, who represent the airline's flight dispatchers.
In November 2014, Morgan Stanley named Spirit the top growth airline pick for investors.
In January 2016, former AirTran CEO Robert L. Fornaro replaced Baldanza as CEO. This prompted rumors of a merger with Frontier Airlines, which would have created the largest ultra-low-cost carrier in the Americas. Fornaro announced the airline would be teaming up with the Disney Institute to “create a common purpose and a fresh set of service standards”, and changing policies internally to create a more welcoming environment.
In November 2017, Spirit's on-time performance was second in the country, behind only Delta Air Lines, a significant improvement from December 2015, when it ranked last among thirteen airlines with 68.7% of flights arriving on time. In February 2018, Spirit was the only airline in North America to make the list of the top 10 safest in the world.
In May 2018, Spirit announced that they would be the first ultra-low-cost carrier to fit their aircraft with high-speed WiFi access that started in fall 2018. All of their aircraft were expected to be equipped with WiFi by summer 2019.
On December 23, 2019, Spirit Airlines announced its intention to purchase 100 new Airbus A320neo family aircraft.
In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Spirit Airlines received $334 million aid in form of grants and loans via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES); the money is used to fund employees until September 30. In July, the same year, the company announced that will put 20%-30% of its employees on leave of absence from October.
In July 2020, a passenger died of COVID-19 on a Spirit Airlines flight. Spirit Airlines claimed it notified the Centers for Disease Control but there was no record of the contact. Passengers on the flight were not informed that they were around an infected individual.