Bumpy Ride? Spirit Airlines Sells Ads on Barf Bags

Spirit Airlines sells advertisements on barf bags, bathrooms, overhead bins.

ByColumn By RICK SEANEY <br/> <a href="http://www.farecompare.com/" target="external">FareCompare.com</a> CEO
March 30, 2010, 8:07 AM

May 19, 2010 &#151; -- The weirdest place I've ever heard of for an airline advertisement? A bald head.

A couple of years ago, Air New Zealand announced it was looking for a few hairless pates, the better to emblazon the name of the airline on them -- with temporary tattoos.

Extreme? Then you don't know the Kiwis. Air New Zealand once made a TV commercial called "Nothing to Hide" featuring naked crew members. Well, they were naked except for painted on "uniforms."

But when it comes to absolutely shameless, provocative, and sometimes tasteless advertising, one airline stands alone.

I refer, of course, to … Spirit.

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First, a disclaimer: Spirit Airlines is what it is, an "ultra" low-cost carrier forever touting its $9 fares (which are always somewhat north of there, once you add in the taxes, fees and the cost of membership in its $9 Fare Club). That said, the airline has tons of satisfied customers.

And a few detractors.

Not too long ago, Spirit Airlines was famous for slogans like "We're Proud of Our Double D's!" (shorthand for "Deep Discounts" -- right) and then there was that ad trumpeting Caribbean deals called "Many Islands, Low Fares" which they shortened to MILF (no, I'm not going to tell you what that acronym means, go Google it yourself).

Not everyone thought this was funny; nor were they all that crazy with the carrier's recent foray into current events.

Perhaps you'll recall the Spirit ad featuring a cartoon tiger crashing an SUV, which, needless to say, brought to mind a certain golfer in the news. What it had to do with cheap fares is anyone's guess.

Meantime, Spirit wants you to join the fun. That is, if you are a deep-pocketed company looking for fresh advertising platforms, such as the lavatory door panels on Spirit planes ("Get our customers' undivided attention!"). According to Spirit's "onboard advertising kit," space is available on the lavatory panels of all their planes for a mere $54,885.

I can see the "captive" passenger reading the door now: "Feeling a little exposed? Hide it all with a Snuggie."

Maybe you'd rather see your company's name plastered on the overhead bins, since they get so much use (just $248,045). How about, "Overstuffed? Metamucil to the rescue."

Or maybe branded beverage napkins ($92,426). Perhaps one day we'll see, "We don't charge for Coke or coffee like Spirit -- Fly JetBlue."

What else? Aprons -- the same ones worn by drink and snack-dispensing crew members are also available as ad space, but this does not always make flight attendants happy.

Last year, for example, when Spirit slapped the logo of an "alcoholic beverage company" on their aprons, the flight attendants snarled about being turned into "walking billboards" and suggested it's hard enough dealing with drunks-on-planes without shilling for their favorite intoxicants (Spirit responded by saying they'd cleared it with the flight attendants' union before going ahead with it).

But the piece de resistance has to be the ad space on Spirit's air sickness bags. Imagine the fun fast food chains could have with that: "We warned you about Burger King -- Love, McDonalds." Or vice versa.

By the way, advertising on planes isn't exactly new: US Airways has had ads on tray tables, while late last year, AirTran announced plans to place advertising on the undersides of the tables; their first ad was for Mother Nature Network, a website devoted to environmental issues. I wonder if that would have worked on the window panels that Spirit is selling as ad space; better that than an ad for a suicide hotline, I suppose. ("Don't jump!")

And let's not forget aircraft exteriors -- you can purchase that space from Spirit as well.

Airlines have been decorating their aircraft for years with everything from professional sports team logos (American Airlines, for example, was 2009's "Official Airline of the New England Patriots") to stiletto-heeled bathing beauties on planes (AirTran "partnered" with Sports Illustrated to celebrate the annual swimsuit edition, naturally).

I have no doubt the crack marketing and sales teams at Spirit will go them all one better. After all, these are the folks who introduced the world to the "pre-reclined" airplane seat which according to all the news reports I've seen, is a seat that does not recline. Now that's genius.

Let's see, Spirit is also selling ad space on beverage carts and drinking cups and boarding passes. What's left to sell?

Some of you cynics out there may be saying, "their soul." Now, now. Besides, based on the reaction from some in Congress, I think they might have already done that when Spirit began charging for carry-on bags.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website, FareCompare.com, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.

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