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Spirit Airlines will begin flights to Havana, Cuba, on December 1, 2016. Image via Spirit Airlines

APEX Insight: Spirit Airlines has earned a reputation for being thrifty when it comes to passenger experience, but to maintain its customer base and compete in the low-cost segment, the no-frills airline is exploring passenger-focused improvements.

Notorious for its bare-bones approach to commercial aviation, Miramar, Florida-headquartered ultra low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines has been turning over a new leaf this past year. In addition to improving its on-time arrival score, modestly reducing passenger complaints and adding route capacity to accommodate growing demand, the no-frills airline has made a shift toward customer-centric initiatives.

“We need to do something different in the marketplace now that we have customers who want to come back and fly with us,” said Sagi Varghese, Spirit Airlines’ director, IT Service Management, while discussing product differentiation and customer retention with APEX CEO Joe Leader at Future Travel Experience Global in Las Vegas last week. “Customer experience is really important to us.”

“Even though we’re no-frills, we like add-on options and that’s how we add to the experience.” — Sagi Varghese, Spirit Airlines

In November, the airline plans to join the TSA PreCheck program, allowing customers with Transportation Security Administration clearance to transfer through security faster. Spirit Airlines is also working on a mobile upgrade that will include a responsive redesign of its website and a mobile app.

The airline has also considered in-flight Wi-Fi, but in line with the airline’s unbundled pricing, it would come at a cost. “Even though we’re no-frills, we like add-on options and that’s how we add to the experience,” Varghese explained.

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APEX CEO Joe Leader interviews Spirit Airlines’ Sagi Varghese at Future Travel Experience Global conference at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

“Everybody wants to have Wi-Fi on board. We said to manufacturers and providers, put your equipment on our airplanes, charge whatever you want to charge – you just need to pay the cost of our fuel to carry all the equipment,” Varghese told Leader. “So that’s something we put out there. At the end of the day, in order to offer that fare, we need to have a profitable model.”

Changes to the airline’s executive team – including Bob Forano assuming leadership as CEO in January, in addition to the more recent appointments of Matt Klein as senior vice-president and chief commercial officer and Rocky Wiggins as senior vice-president and chief information officer – may be contributing forces behind the new strategic approach.

“We are expanding our fleet, adding new routes, focusing on improving our operations and customer experience, all while delivering our promise of ultra low fares,” said Bob Forano in a statement that announced the new appointments.

Spirit Airlines flies nonstop to multiple cities in domestic US and has routes to Canada and South America. Starting December 1, the airline will bring its ultra low-cost fares to Havana, Cuba.