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Who will lose if JetBlue buys Spirit? comedians

Travelers check in for a Spirit Airlines flight at Orlando International Airport on the Friday before Memorial Day.

Paul Hennessy | Light rocket | Getty Images

JetBlue’s surprise $3.6 billion cash bid for Spirit threatens the latter’s plans to merge with Frontier into the discount airline giant. It also threatens one of the comedians’ favorite sources.

“It’s kind of a bummer for me. If the Spirit is no more, who are we going to laugh at?” Jimmy Kimmel joked Wednesday on his “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” monologue. “Beware, Allegiant. You are on deck.”

New York-based JetBlue wants to take over the Florida-headquartered Spirit and turn the bright yellow Spirit planes with seats that don’t recline into line with JetBlue planes that offer more spacious seats, seat-back screens and free snacks.

Spirit’s low fares and fees for everything, including seat selection and hand luggage, have given comedians many years of fodder and become a benchmark for air travel indignities. Major airlines have followed the example of discounters with basic economy class fares that do not include advance seat selection and force passengers to board last.

Last year, Spirit accounted for just under 5% of passengers carried by US airlines. However, according to an analysis done for the airline, which was reviewed by CNBC, it was mentioned 40 times in late-night talk shows in 2021, accounting for 20% of the total number of airline mentions on those programs.

Kimmel said Wednesday that JetBlue wants to buy Spirit for $3.6 billion “plus $55 extra for hand luggage.”

Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon also quoted JetBlue’s proposal in his Wednesday monologue. “Now Spirit says: “Guys, we better open a bank account. I think it’s time.”

“You must have thick skin”

No airline has escaped unscathed in the light of the nightly shows. Spirit’s analysis showed that American had 77 mentions last year, while Southwest had 50 and Delta had 34. There are also countless stand-up clips and memes that make fun of airlines and air travel.

“Every airline has a story that at some point becomes a joke on some show,” said Ross Feinstein, a former spokesman for American Airlines and the Transportation Security Administration. “You have to have thick skin to work in the aviation industry.”

Following reports that a man was removed from a JetBlue flight in late 2019 for trying to board a possum, Saturday Night Live star co-host Colin Yost said in a Weekend Update segment: “Being on Spirit Airlines, that’s what falls when you need an oxygen mask.”

Spirit said that “despite the nightly narratives, our airline is focused on delivering a great experience for Guests at affordable rates that allows them to venture further and discover more than ever before.”

He said he had approached the show before and had no luck with the response.

Spirit said it understands that airlines are the target “because air travel related jokes are constantly laughable” and added, “We promise possums will never pop out of a bulkhead.”

Spirit has made strides in improving punctuality in recent years and ranked sixth among U.S. airlines last year, ahead of JetBlue in ninth place, according to the Department of Transportation. Complaints also dropped in the years leading up to the pandemic. He hired employees from the Disney Institute to improve customer service.

In 2019, Spirit unveiled new curved seats that it says were designed to give passengers more personal space, but still have not escaped ridicule from nighttime hosts.

“Congratulations, Spirit. We insulted them a lot on the show, but it’s a big improvement over their old seats, which were just a dirty couch they found on the street,” Trevor Noah said in a December 2019 episode of The Daily. Show.”

Representatives for Kimmel, Fallon, Noah and Saturday Night Live did not immediately respond to the comment.

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