Seat complaints top Spirit Airlines' State of Hate passenger survey

Willie Grace | 11/5/2014, noon | Updated on 11/5/2014, noon
The airline revels in its reputation as a super-low-cost carrier willing to take its lumps, so much that it launched ...

(CNN) -- Spirit Airlines gets slammed for charging fees for almost everything except the air we breathe. (Although that fee could be coming soon.)

The airline revels in its reputation as a super-low-cost carrier willing to take its lumps, so much that it launched an air travel State of Hate survey over the summer to share the hate air travelers feel about airlines as a whole.

Almost 30,000 travelers filled out the survey in just a few days, in exchange for 8,000 Spirit reward miles.

It turns out that travelers' hate wasn't only directed at Spirit, according to the airline's own survey. Passengers are mad at most U.S. airlines.

"I think if any organization asks for feedback, you would expect the vast majority of responses would be directed at the company that seeks it," Ben Baldanza, Spirit's president and CEO, said in a statement. "But in this case, we were surprised that most consumers chose to share their frustrations about other airlines."

What do customers hate?

Air travelers are most upset about airline seats (20%), followed by lost bags (16%), delays (15%) and service (15%), Spirit's survey found. Fees came in fifth place (12%).

Spirit doesn't get most of the blame in its own survey. Southwest Airlines gets the most complaints about seats (36%), followed by United Airlines' service (22%), American Airlines-owned US Airways' delays (22%), Spirit's fees (18%) and Delta Air Lines' costs (11%).

"Airlines mess up, and air travelers get frustrated," Baldanza said. "The feedback we received makes it clear no airline is immune from upsetting their customers, and at Spirit, we can do a better job of explaining how flying with us is different."

Spirit's cheerful defense: Pay for what you want on your flight, and don't pay for what you don't want. The airline's new This is Spirit 101 campaign shares the details of how to reduce those fees, including paying for checked luggage from home and printing your boarding pass at home.

It's true that passengers from the Americas (including the United States) are unhappiest in the world, according to a recent passenger survey from the air transport communications company SITA. About 28% of travelers from the Americas report major levels of dissatisfaction with their travel experiences, compared with a global average of 22%.

But really, it's about Spirit

It's a good effort by Spirit to lump complaints about its fees into the conversation about Americans' growing resentment of most U.S. airlines. But really, most customers blame Spirit by a wide margin.

Spirit ranked No. 1 in customer complaints about U.S. airlines filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation every year from 2009 to 2013, according to "the Unfriendly Skies," a U.S. PIRG Education Fund study of five years of government data.

Spirit received nearly three times as many complaints as the next airline during the study period, the report found. And Spirit has been hit with $565,000 in fines for violations of consumer protection laws involving deceptive advertising, baggage and oversales.

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