So, I took the plunge and booked a flight with Spirit Airlines. For those not in the know, Spirit is a low-cost airline with tons of extra charges, like the ones that had been popping up in Europe, and not unlike its competitor Frontier.
The basic idea is that you pay a “base price” that is much lower than other airlines’ fare. Then you have to pay for extras that are free-ish on other airlines. For instance, on Spirit you pay for carry-on luggage. Also, you pay for drinks on the plane (even soda!). You even pay if you lost your boarding pass or didn’t bother printing it at home.
Also, the flights themselves are very bare-bones. I am not the tallest guy in the world, but even for me the seats were uncomfortably close to each other. Sitting with the back glued to the chair, I barely had two inches of room in front of my knees. Also, the seats don’t recline – which is a must because every degree of inclination gets part of a chair into your knee.
There is no on-board entertainment system. The seats look worn and old. When we got onto the plane, there were pepitas strewn on several seats. All in all, not the best experience.
BUT! I paid about half as much as I would have on any other airline. That was absolutely worth it, and I would have considered upgrading to make my flight more comfortable. I could have done so on my first flight, but I wanted to see how Spirit does with bare bones. And it does well: it delivers as promised, and the flight experience is more than OK.
Let’s start with the bad news: on the morning of my flight I got an email. A flight delay. Instead of departing at 8a, the plane was going to leave at 12:35p. Ugh! I had woken up extra early to get to the airport, now I was deflated and mulling over what to do. Frankly, while I was upset (and would have been even more upset if I had had to cancel a meeting), I recognized that Spirit at least warned me. Contrast that to United, whose usual reaction was (I haven’t flown with them in a long time) to make me come to the airport knowing fully well my flight was canceled.
A word of warning: Spirit changed its mind. Just as I was about to leave for the gym, I got another email telling me that the flight was now going to leave at 10:25a. I had just enough time to scramble to the airport (using Lyft, which merits its own article). As a side note: this was the first time in my flying history that TSA employees were friendly and humorous. Took only 13 years.
Seat assignment on Spirit is like in the old days: you are assigned a random seat. You can pick your own seat if you want, but it costs money. Notice that on Spirit, you can book any seat on the plane for enough money. There is no first class, just a series of seats up front that are larger (two to a row instead of three) and have more leg room. They cost $50 each for each leg, which adds up if you have stops.
I had Spirit pick a random seat for me and ended up at the window, my preferred location. When boarding, there was none of the preferential treatment crap that other airlines (including my beloved Hawaiian) love. From zone 1 to zone 3 (where I was), there were only maybe a total of three minutes.
Turns out that making people pay for carry-on makes them carry on less! It’s amazing how much quicker boarding and deboarding goes if people don’t have to unload massive mini-suitcases from overloaded container bins. Spirit is generous about luggage, sort of, and it costs about the same to check-in a suitcase as to bring a carry-on. I’d still prefer a carry-on, just because I don’t like to give my airline a chance to lose my luggage, but I salute anything that makes boarding and especially deboarding faster.
Of course, since mine was just a weekend trip, I was just carrying a small backpack. Mysteriously, those are free. The dimensions are 16″x14″x12″, which is fairly generous. Spirit has boxes at the gate that allow you (or more likely, them) to check if you fit. You should know that changing categorization of your luggage at the gate will incur monstrous fees, so be sure not to tempt them.
(It’s not a scam, though: staff was extremely courteous and nobody was eyed for exceeding size limits. I thought maybe they’d make up for lost airfare by extorting passengers at the gate, but that’s absolutely not the case.)
The flight itself was uneventful, save for the lack of material comfort. I get the close seats, and I get the abolished free drinks and peanuts. (I don’t get why they are so proud of proclaiming that’s a saving passed to the customer, since I cannot imagine regular airlines pay a significant amount of money to free soda and peanuts.)
What got me more was the proudly proclaimed lack of amenities. No free entertainment makes sense – maintenance and upkeep of a media system is annoying. But no Internet? I don’t know if I’d want to keep that, as it’s one thing I would gladly pay for on a flight. Just make it slow enough that nobody is going to download a torrent or used video calling features, and charge a bare amount for it.
I should mention that Spirit is very open about its charges, posting links to them all over their web site. It’s a quirky web site, too: the interstitials all read, “Loading Something Awesome,” no matter how mundane the next page is going to be. There, you will find an openly stated policy on sports equipment (surfboards and snowboards are of interest to me).
Spirit offers a discount club, called the $9 Fare Club. If you are a member, you get discounts (typically, $9, hence the name) on all charges, from fare to seats to luggage. It costs $59.95 for the first year, $10 more thereafter. Also, Spirit offers its own credit card (which they push on the flights, too). Finally, buying a ticket is painless, but checking it requires you to go through way too many pushy pages that try to upsell you, and it’s frequently not clear that you don’t have to actually purchase anything. For instance, the “Pick Your Seat” page is not very open about the fact you don’t have to pick a seat at all.
But, all in all, Spirit offers a good experience for a great price. Love!