Spirit Airlines: So Bad It’s Good Again

Spirit Airlines has great prices and famously terrible customer service (they serve no in-flight snacks or beverages, seats don’t recline, and it costs $50 to CARRY ON a bag), but according to Derek Thompson at the Atlantic, their business is still doing really, really well. Between 2008 and 2012, Spirit Air “saw fuel costs rise by nearly 60 percent, increased salaries by about half, flew more miles at higher costs, and, despite all that, still managed to reduce its average ticket price by 20 percent,” earning 40% more per airplane than their competitors.

I flew with them recently, unaware of their carry-on fees and wooed like many are by a $160 round trip flight. The experience was so shamelessly bad that I couldn’t do anything but laugh. Everyone I made eye contact with was shaking their fists and throwing back their heads in outrage, shouting variations of, “Can you believe this?!” or trying to sleep folded over onto their seat-back trays. It was, in a word, hilarious.

Derek’s feelings about the airline echo my own, some weird combination of indignation and awe:

I may never fly Spirit Airlines ever again. If I do, I’m wearing all four shirts and three pants at once and shoving my socks and underwear in my computer bag to save $50. But there is something impressive, if not quite admirable, about a business that is equal parts populist and profitable. Spirit makes hurtling through the atmosphere in a pressurized metal tube exactly as luxurious as it sounds.

If you do ever fly with them, and even with the fees they do end up being cheaper a lot of the time, just buy a bottle of water before you get on the flight, let go of any remaining ideas you have about customer service, and enjoy your little journey toward the bottom line.

Photo: PhillipC

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18 Comments / Post A Comment

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

They’re the American Ryanair! If you fly without baggage and have no expectations beyond probably arriving at your destination at some point then Spirit is actually amazing.

mp (#5,283)

I flew Spirit once for a last minute business trip. (I worked for a terrible company.)

The flight was uneventful, but the people in the departure lounge with me all seemed so sad, like something in their lives had gone horribly wrong for them to be flying this way. It felt like the Greyhound of airlines.

Meaghano (#529)

@mp HA, the Greyhound of airlines is spot on.

foofyq (#4,309)

no! don’t do it!!! It’s not so hilariously bad anymore when your 11:30 pm flight gets canceled while you are waiting at the gate and they don’t have any more open flights leaving for 3 days. Then they refuse to give you a hotel voucher and you have to sleep in the airport on a cot.

Meaghano (#529)

@foofyq Ok yes that does NOT sound hilarious.

CTYA (#3,363)

@foofyq YES. This happens on Spirit. It goes far beyond the baggage fees. They are the worst. It is never ever worth it.

cjm (#3,397)

I flew Spirit. I bought the ticket at the airport to avoid paying additional fees that are added for buying online. Took a backpack only. Knew about the fees in advance. I do not regret my $90 round trip to San Diego for 1 night.

However, if it wasn’t $100+ cheaper, I don’t think it would be worth it. If you were taller than 5’10″ it would never be worth it.

veedub1144 (#5,204)

I was wise to the fee for a carry-on and shoved everything for a 3 day trip in a purse, a la Mary Poppins. I felt smug and like I’d pulled a fast one on them…and then my seat was held together with duct tape. I draw the line at soaring 30,000 above Earth in something that’s sort of being held together with duct tape.

Meaghano (#529)

@veedub1144 HA

Frecklemint (#5,090)

Won’t lie, as a naive foreigner I had heard rumours it wasn’t great but wasn’t prepared for the truly horrific experience I had. I knew the fees were exorbitant but I had to check a bag as I had travel stuff for a few months with me – turns out they allowed almost 10kg less than other carriers for checked bags so I frantically sat in my hotel downing my Smores vodka (truly American drink I had to purchase) and throwing out weighty, cheap things to try and make it under the limit to avoid the crazy fees.

Departure was delayed two hours, so we left at 1 or 2am, then the actual flight was like one of those nightmares where you can’t wake up and hover in that hellish dream state. The seats were like the dirtiest bus seats that didn’t move, the heating was screwed so every single person was wearing their winter coats and scarves in their seats, a solitary baby screamed and the flight attendants gossiped poisonously the whole way there. I remember arriving in Chicago in the freezing early hours of the morning, confused from sleep deprivation, wondering if it had been some crazy nightmare.

As such, I love everyone’s Spirit stories.

Meaghano (#529)

@Frecklemint The s’more vodka really brings this story to the next level. HA. I love it though I am so sorry.

Wilgrims (#1,318)

Ryanair, in my limited experience, is much more aggressive about making you miserable. But maybe that’s because international flights are already a headache and harder to make on time. Spirit from Minneapolis to Chicago is perfect and one of the rare exactly on time flights I’ve taken. I’m sure longer, more popular trips are as bad as the horror stories, though.

Wilgrims (#1,318)

@Wilgrims At least Spirit doesn’t make you pay to print out your boarding pass (yourself), even if you do it online.

deepomega (#22)

The Greyhound of airlines. Which, I could spend a LOT of words talking about the classism involved in traveling in America.

CTYA (#3,363)

Spirit Air is never, ever worth it. You might fly it a few times without incident and save some money, but eventually you’re very likely to get screwed. And not just on baggage fees. I’m talking stranded by Spirit and have to buy a ticket on another airline and get no refund from Spirit Air screwed. Never do it.

foofyq (#4,309)

@CTYA exactly. Happened to me. probably one of the top 5 worst days I’ve ever had.

I’ve flown Spirit several times, most recently last month, and I’ve never had the problems people describe. It makes air travel affordable for people like me, so what if I have to buy my own water and shove my purse in my backpack? Not that I don’t believe the stories, they just don’t match my experience.

IMO, the real enemy here isn’t Spirit Airlines, it’s most often poor planning and lack of due diligence by the traveler. We really make it tougher than it has to be sometimes, and that’s not on the airline…that’s on us, the consumer. You have to be smart about it.

Keys to having a successful trip flying on Spirit Airlines (or any other airline for that matter with most of these):

1) ALWAYS book through the airline’s website, NOT a third party like Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity, etc. I just booked a getaway to Vegas with my wife on Spirit’s website a few days ago ($200/person cheaper than the closest competitor, even AFTER all of the fees so many people are griping about). The advantage here is that, at least with Spirit, ALL of their policies are clearly stated BEFORE you click “Buy Tickets”. Sure, some of the fees sound silly (UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF DOT REGULATION, LOL) but in the end if I’m paying half of what I would be paying with the closest competitor, I don’t really care how that price is arrived at.

2) Research the airline’s policies, BEFORE you drive to the airport. In this day and age of readily available information with internet access for even the most poverty-stricken people in our country, there’s no excuse for not knowing ahead of time…that’s just poor planning and/or laziness. Know the dimensions required for carry-on and personal item ahead of time, and plan accordingly. If you do this, there will be no surprises as far as bag fees go.

3) This should go without saying, but SHOW UP AT THE AIRPORT WHEN YOU ARE TOLD TO…2 HRS BEFORE DEPARTURE FOR DOMESTIC FLIGHTS AND 3 HRS FOR INTERNATIONAL. I just laugh when I read about people complaining when they show up at the airport 30-45 minutes before departure and then wonder why they missed their flight. Now I know the lines can be rather long for the “Fast bag drop” at some of the larger, busier airports, but a great option available at many airports is CURBSIDE CHECK-IN. The line for this is almost always a small fraction of the line inside the airport. Sure, you need to tip the skycap a couple of dollars per bag but if it looks like the line is a mile long and there’s a chance you’ll miss your flight, tipping the skycap and using Curbside check-in is certainly preferable to shelling out hundreds of dollars because you missed your flight (and most likely didn’t show up when you were supposed to).

3) Have low expectations, meaning just expect the flight to get you there safely..which Spirit does (no record of ANY plane crashes since their inception, which is pretty stellar if you ask me). The airline isn’t there to entertain you…so instead of using WIFI like you would on another airline most of the flight, try having an actual conversation with someone during the flight, it’s a revelation!

4) Realize that no matter what airline you fly these days, there’s always a chance your flight could be delayed significantly and you could be SOL due to a flight being cancelled…it happens at EVERY airline at times, be it top of the line or low budget. HAVE A PLAN B in case the worst happens…research ahead of time and see how many other flights are going to your destination that day on both the airline you are flying on as well as others, and find out how much they are and which could give you the best deal just in case the worst does happen.

5) Keep your sense of humor (if you have one), no matter what happens. Don’t yell at the people who work for the airline, being pleasant and keeping one’s sense of humor sometimes pays off in unexpected ways.

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