Spirit Airlines: Lacking the Spirit?

As a savvy bargain traveler, I decided to try Spirit Airlines for a trip from Los Angeles to Denver and back. The budget carrier has made quite an impact on the world of online reviews, and it was the perfect time to see if the airline was as bad as they they all say.

Spirit airline

Spirit Airlines

1. Negative review: Too many hidden costs to justify the low fare.

Spirit Airlines had, indeed, the cheapest fare for our trip, almost $50 less per ticket than the other carriers for the same flight segments. We paid $156 per ticket, but the hidden costs everyone complains about are correct. Like any other airline, Spirit has clubs, memberships, and credit cards, all which make additional fees less or at zero cost. However, the extra fees are based on the average flyer who doesn’t qualify for any discounts. Spirit charges $45 for a carry-on bag and $42 to check your suitcase if it’s under 40 lbs. Of course, these amounts applied for confirming bags when making a reservation in advance online and were based on distance traveled.

Travelers who don’t inform the carrier about their luggage could pay $100 per bag at check-in, or $50 if the bag is added to the reservation with an agent on the phone before the flight. We paid for two carry-on bags, but one woman said she spent nearly $200 in fees.

How the bottle is kept

Gone are the days of seat pockets

In-flight service consists of a very basic menu, which passengers can only purchase by debit or credit card. I must admit that I missed the old days when I used to wait anxiously for my turn to order a warm can of  ginger ale (the only time I ever drank it) in a tiny cup with three ice cubes. As a treat to my two little kids, I let them choose one combo menu item. They decided on a can of chips can and a soda, with a total cost of $9 for both. The coffee tasted alright and cost $2 with free refills.

In the end, we spent $624 on airfare for a family of four, $90 in baggage fees, and $18 on snacks, with a total cost of $732.  The next cheapest airfare we had seen online was $195 per person, which included one carry-on bag and in-flight drinks at a total cost of $780. Price savings for us… drum roll please… $48.00. As they say, every dollar counts. I can say, however, that this wasn’t enough of a savings to have me jumping on the Spirit bandwagon.


TIPS:

  • If you travel on Spirit Airlines, pay for your bags in advance online. Passengers can bring small bags and personal items, such as a computer free of charge. Strollers and car seats are also free, and you can either check them in at the ticket counter or at the gate.
  • Bring some of your snacks on the plane, as the selection on the menu is minimal.

2. Negative review: Flight crew and ticket agents rude and disorganized

I have flown all over the world on many different airlines, less than friendly service in the air seems to be the norm, unfortunately. That being said, Spirit is no different, or maybe they are. From my experience, many airline personnel suffer from a type of I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude. Passengers can easily recognize this by an employee’s blank stare in response to a question, or how they completely ignore anything and anyone. Of course, there’s the most common leave-me-alone glare that makes you feel guilty for letting the thought of asking a question cross your mind.

Inside the airline

Getting ready for takeoff

Spirit Airlines really exudes a blatant, I-don’t-give-a-shit rudeness that can leave you quivering in fear, and they have the knack of doing things that don’t make sense.

For instance, it states on a boarding pass that it’s not necessary to go to the check-in counter if a passenger has a carry-on bag and a seat assignment. However, when we arrived at the airport terminal with our two little kids in toe, we saw people standing in line with their boarding passes and carry-on luggage in hand. Since I hadn’t flown Spirit Airlines before, I asked an airline employee for clarification:

“Excuse me,” I said, “I printed my boarding passes at home and only have two carry-on bags, do I have to check in here?”

“Yes,” he replied, without looking at me.

Confused, I pressed on. “But it says right here on my boarding pass to go to the gate.”

“Yes, you have to check in here.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

We waited in the long line, and when it was our turn to check in with the ticket agent, she looked at my boarding pass and said: “Why did you get in this line? It says right here that you don’t have to. Didn’t you read it?”

She was lovely.

On board, flight attendants take on the role of a drill sergeant, barking orders at passengers boarding the plane or at those are already seated. “You, push that bag all the way under the seat in front of you, and, you, push that under your seat. You, that bag handle is not pushed all the way under the seat in front of you. Come on people, push. Push those bags.”

After the in-flight service, flight attendants walked up and down the aisle holding white bags and ordered people to throw away their trash:

“But this is my computer,” I replied.

“Well, you’d better push it under the seat in front of you.”


TIPS:

  • If you check in online, have a printed boarding pass with your seat assignment and only a carry-on bag, go through security and directly to the gate. You don’t need to go to the check-in counter, unless you need to check your suitcase.
  • Airline personnel check boarding passes to see that a carry-on is listed, if you have one.  So, make sure you add it to your online reservation and pay the fee in advance, lest you want to pay the higher price at the airport.

3. Negative review: Flights being late, cancelled often, gates closing early, frequent gate changes

Changes you receive via email

Changes you receive via email

The airline informed us three emails about several gate changes for our return flight to LAX. Fortunately, we arrived at the right gate on time. On a side note, it’s curious that my wife also received the same emails as I did, but we hadn’t entered her email address when we made our reservation online (oh, big brother’s watching).

There was also a slight change in the departure time, which Spirit Airlines informed us about by email. We talked with a couple of fellow travelers about their experiences with the airline, and they said that gate and departure changes are frequent, as well closing the gate early.


TIPS:

  • Plan on arriving at the airport earlier than you normally would for a flight.
  • Not only check your email for flight and gate changes, but also the information on concourse monitors.

4. Negative Review: Seats are uncomfortable

airline seats

Comfy airline seats?

The airline’s website refers to “thinner seats” and “a little less leg room.” What I discovered was there’s no padding on the seats at all. Only a thin layer of leather separates a traveler’s backside from the hard plastic seat. The arm rests are narrow, metal pieces and the seat pocket has been reduced to a bungee strap. Let’s not forget the Barbie-sized tray tables, either. The very best part, which is a blessing and a curse at the same time, is that the seats don’t recline. Although I was slightly disappointed about this, I was so happy that the passenger in front of me couldn’t do it.

Since we were flying with two small children, we assumed that they had to be seated with us. Nevertheless, we contacted the airline just in case. The customer service agent told us that the airline’s system randomly assigns seats upon checking in online. He suggested we complete the process in order to see what seats numbers would appear on our boarding passes. In the end, my husband and kids were seated together in the same row, while I was one row ahead of them. That was fine with us. A few people on board, however, complained about being split up from their traveling companion.


TIPS:

  • Check in online 24 hours prior to departure in order to get a seat assignment and, hopefully, next to your travel companion.
  • A passenger can also pay $10 to choose a seat assignment, or up to $199 one-way for a seat with extra legroom.

It is enticing to pay for a lower airfare on a budget carrier to get from point A to B, but the trip comes with a few sacrifices. Before booking, check the fine print on a carrier’s website so that unpleasant surprises don’t arise and ruin the traveling experience. If unanswered questions still remain, contact the airline directly or read online reviews from trusted sites to find the answers.

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