Q+A: Spirit Airlines CEO eyes opportunities for more service from Las Vegas

A Spirit Airlines passenger jet takes off from McCarran International Airport June 5, 2017.

With over 50 daily departures, Spirit Airlines is one of the busiest operators out of McCarran International Airport.

In town Monday on business, Spirit CEO Ted Christie sat down with the Sun to talk about what Las Vegas means to the discount carrier and how relationships with local organizations have helped its growth here.

Spirit has service to many U.S., Latin American and Caribbean locations. What does the Las Vegas market mean to Spirit?

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Spirit Airlines CEO Ted Christie

It’s been one of the fastest-growing markets for us over the past few years. We’re almost three times bigger here than we were three years ago. We’re over 50 departures now and we continue to grow rapidly. We just recently announced that we’re going to be flying three times per day from Las Vegas to Sacramento and Burbank (California).

We’re already the second-largest airline at (McCarran) and we see Vegas as a tremendous growth opportunity. It checks a couple of important boxes for us when considering where we want to deploy airplanes — it’s a world-class leisure destination and it’s a city with a big population base that also wants to go places.

Being a discount carrier, how does Las Vegas fit with Spirit’s business model?

Our product is intended to stimulate more and more travelers who are not used to traveling on airplanes. We have a low-fare, high-value product. It’s worked well here. We see those opportunities continuing going forward.

The younger generation today also tends to put a value on experience rather than physical goods. People are more likely to use their discretionary income to explore a new place or visit a friend. Older generations maybe liked to gather physical goods more, but that generational shift favors a carrier like us, which is focused on leisure destinations and leisure traffic.

Looking to the future, what might be coming down the pike for Spirit in the Las Vegas market?

There are some product things that we think are going to be exciting. In the next year or year-and-a-half, we’ll be adding on-board, streamed-seat Wi-Fi. That’s going to be different for a low-cost carrier. Specifically to Las Vegas, I think people will find more and more service, to be honest. We work closely with the airport here and the (Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority) to grow our opportunities, and we think there are still quite a few of those. The airport and the LVCVA have been tremendous partners for us.

The assumption here is that your job probably isn’t boring. What do you like most about being the CEO of an airline?

The airline business is never boring and it’s extremely dynamic. That generally attracts a certain type of person who likes the idea of aspirational travel to start with, and they like the excitement and the pace. It’s a high-energy business. I really enjoy the puzzle of fixing problems and I really like working with the folks I work with every day. I work with some really bright and talented people.

We’re a smaller U.S. carrier than some of the really big airlines, but we have a talented group of people who are looking to change the business. I think we’ve done that in a lot of ways. That’s really fun.

Following the recent crashes of two Boeing 737 Max 8 jets, the airline industry has had a bit of a cloud over it. Spirit doesn’t fly Boeing planes, but how has it been working in the industry since those tragedies?

We didn’t see anything that we could point to as far as a reaction. We didn’t see a blip in demand or anything like that or people shying away from air travel. We’re an all-Airbus customer. I think it’s been frustrating, probably, for the folks at Boeing and the customers who have had to work through those issues. Long term, I think the 737 issues will be resolved. Historically, it’s proven to be an excellent airplane.