Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based ultra-LCC Spirit Airlines will equip its entire fleet with inflight Wi-Fi capability by mid-2019 as part of an ongoing effort to revamp its image and improve the value proposition of its product.

“Continuing with very low fares, we will continue to get better [operationally and in terms of an onboard product] … We’re part of an evolution at Spirit,” Ted Christie, the airline’s president who will become CEO on Jan. 1, 2019, told ATW’s sister publication Aviation Daily.

While Spirit, the first US carrier to adopt the ULCC model in 2007, will not be changing its core business model, Christie said the airline is seeking to move beyond the perception that it simply offers bare bones service.

Spirit has signed a partnership deal with Thales Group to equip its aircraft with a high-end Ka-band HTS (high throughput satellite) system. “The technology will bring [passengers] high-speed web browsing and streaming experiences similar to what they would find at home,” Spirit said in announcing the news. Spirit plans to begin installations late this year and expects to have its all-Airbus A320-family aircraft fleet equipped by mid-2019.

When the full fleet is equipped, 97% of Spirit’s routes will have Wi-Fi, the airline said. In 2021, the launch of SES-17, a new satellite operated by SES and built by Thales Alenia Space, will increase Spirit’s Wi-Fi streaming speeds and coverage will be extended to 100% of routes.

“We’re in constant change,” Christie said. “We’ve been discussing this concept for quite a while … [Thales will] provide Wi-Fi and we provide people.”

Christie declined to detail the financial arrangement with Thales or how the revenue generated from the Wi-Fi service on Spirit’s aircraft will be divided. “We’re business partners in this,” he explained. “Spirit will get revenue upside out of that.”

The average price for the Wi-Fi service will initially be $6.50 per flight, although it will be more for longer flights and less for shorter flights. There could also be variations in pricing depending on what a passenger wants to do, Christie noted, explaining that emailing and web surfing will cost less than streaming. 

Christie said passenger surveys have indicated Wi-Fi is strongly desired by the airline’s customers. “We’ve been over the last few years steadily improving in our core operational execution and our interaction with the guests,” Christie said. “We see it in the data … We poll our customers regularly and we find the satisfaction of our guests is going up rapidly … We’re doing it with standardized execution … [Passengers] want to get there on time with their bag.”

Christie emphasized that the deal with Thales will not drive up Spirit’s costs, and that Spirit will not move away from its low-cost, low-fare, fee-heavy business model. “I don’t see that ever changing,” he said. “We know our model is about giving people who have not had the luxury to travel, or travel very frequently, the ability to travel. That’s a powerful proposition … We can’t afford to let our cost structure creep.”

Aaron Karp/Aviation Daily,