Before Spirit Airlines — There was People Express

Business, Lifestyle
Reading Time: 2 minutes

There is so much talk about how cheap Spirit Airlines is and that it reminds many people of the now defunct People Express of the 1980s, as both airlines aimed to disrupt the traditional airline industry with low-cost fares and no-frills service. Although there are certainly many similarities, there are also some key differences between the two:


  • Low-cost fares: Both airlines offered significantly lower fares than traditional carriers, often achieved through unbundling services and charging extra for things like seat selection, baggage, and onboard meals.
  • No-frills service: Neither airline offered the amenities or frills of traditional carriers, focusing on getting passengers from point A to point B as cheaply as possible.
  • Focus on secondary airports: Both airlines often operated out of secondary airports to lower operating costs.


  • Business model: People Express operated a hub-and-spoke model, while Spirit Airlines operates a point-to-point model. This means People Express passengers often had to connect through a central hub to reach their destinations, while Spirit passengers typically fly directly from their origin to their destination. The People Express approach often made it much longer for passengers to reach their destination.
  • Target market: People Express initially targeted business travelers, while Spirit Airlines has always focused on leisure travelers. Although Spirit attracts many small business travelers.
  • Longevity: People Express operated from 1981 to 1995, while Spirit Airlines has been in operation since the 1980s, becoming Spirit Airlines in 1992. and is still going strong. This likely reflects the fact that Spirit Airlines has been more adaptable and willing to change its business model over time. It also might have learned from the mistakes of its predecessor, People Express.

Additional factors to consider:

  • Customer service: People Express was known for its poor customer service, while Spirit Airlines has a mixed reputation in this area.
  • Safety: Both airlines have had their share of safety incidents, though neither has been involved in any major accidents.
  • Overall experience: While both airlines offer low fares, the overall experience on Spirit Airlines is generally considered to be better than the experience on People Express was.

Ultimately, whether Spirit Airlines is “better” than People Express is a matter of opinion. However, it is clear that Spirit Airlines has been more successful in the long run, likely due to its adaptability and willingness to cater to the needs of leisure travelers.

A Brief History of People Express


  • April 30th – First flight takes off from Newark, New Jersey, to Buffalo, New York.
  • Rapid expansion throughout the year.


  • Continued growth, reaching seventh-largest US airline by 1984.
  • Acquisition of Texas International Airlines.


  • Financial challenges emerge.
  • Labor disputes and customer service issues.
  • Cost-cutting attempts alienate customers.


  • February 1st – People Express merges with Continental Airlines.
  • People Express last flight is on February 1st.


  • Inspiration for low-cost carriers.
  • Lasting impact on innovative practices and affordability.
  • Lessons learned from rapid growth and challenges.

Check out more interesting and even unconventional business news stories here.

Before Spirit Airlines, There was People Express

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