Trippin’ with Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines. Photograph from 123RF stock photos.

Spirit Airlines. Photograph from 123RF stock photos.

Updated with information about flying with Spirit Airlines.

There are things you should know before booking a flight with Spirit Airlines.

I’ve taken my first Spirit Airlines trip, and it was an experience.

There’s a lot not to like about Spirit. The attitude of Ben Baldanza, who was CEO of the airline until January 2016, was very in your face, and if you don’t like it the way we do business, well, f*@#k you. It will be interesting to see whether  the new CEO, Robert Fornaro, brings a different outlook to the company.

Spirit Airlines Passenger

Who is the Spirit customer? Young and hip, older with limited income — they serve a wide range of people. Photograph, Ann Fisher

Spirit glories in its reputation for cheap, you pay for everything way of doing business.

I’ll tell you a little secret — their target market doesn’t care. Or more accurately, it won’t stop them from flying Spirit.

Who is their target market? On my flight to New Orleans, I saw a lot of young, über-hip fliers. There was a delightful, young couple with their baby who sat next to me. Baby Annabelle and her parents were headed for spur of the moment weekend get-away in NOLA. I saw working class middle-agers. And I saw the elderly. In other words, Spirit serves a lot of people who probably couldn’t afford to fly on regular carriers. At least not very often.

It’s important to have low cost airlines in the transportation mix. Years ago, Southwest Airlines played this role. There used to be something called the Southwest effect, described by Vinay Bhaskara as “when low cost Southwest Airlines entered a market, fares tended to drop and market volume tended to increase.” This isn’t the case anymore. Increasingly, Southwest Airlines charges as much as all of the other carriers. There is a place for Spirit in the air market.

To offer the incredibly cheap fares they advertise, Spirit’s services are completely unbundled. And that means you pay for everything separately. EVERYTHING.

Spirit Airlines Extra fee carry on bags

Thought you’d avoid bag charges by taking yours onboard? Man, you are SCREWED.

If you’ve never flown on Spirit before, I warn you — read carefully about the extra charges. Carry-on luggage? If it doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you, you will pay for it. If you pay when you buy your ticket, it’s not too bad. The longer you wait to buy the bags, the more it’s going to cost you.

And if you think you’ll somehow avoid paying these fees and try to board the airline with your suitcase — well, that will be $100, please.

So what are the bag fees? You’ll find an example from a flight from Houston to New Orleans below.

But hey, it also means that if you just want to fly somewhere without luggage, you have a very cheap flight.

Oh, and they charge for everything else, too. Want a counter representative to print your boarding pass? $10. Would you like a snack? How about some mixed nuts . . . $4, please. Like a cocktail? Have two and save 3 bucks. Want to pick your seat? Pony up. One of the larger seats in the front? Oh, big spender, you are speaking my language. Want to reschedule your flight? Okay, bend over now; and if you want lube for that, you guessed it — that will be EXTRA.

Personally, I didn’t have a problem with the charges. I knew about them; I thought the website was very clear about what to expect, and I had no surprises. I booked the flight three days out, and Spirit, even with the extra charges, was less than half the price of the other airlines.

bag-prices-w2

Spirit Airlines Refreshment Menu

Spirit’s refreshment menu. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I find Spirit’s graphic design and ad choices fun. Perfect for the cheap and cheesy way the company does things. But, um . . . they stole them.

It’s a great advertising story from 2015. When Scoot Airlines (Asian market) realized that Spirit’s new graphics and branding brazenly copied theirs, they turned it into a media campaign of their own.

Highly entertaining marketing and public relations slap! Spirit remains impervious to the criticism . . . remember this is the company that posts “State of the Hate” videos.

 

 

 

 

scoot-w2

Spirit Airlines cheap seat

Spirit Airlines seat. The “tray” looks like a pocket notebook. Hey, and don’t even think about storing anything in the seat back “pocket”.

Next up is seat comfort. This is the cheapest looking and feeling seat I have ever seen. Tightest legroom imaginable and the seats do not recline. Spirit sold this idea by telling you that it’s “pre-reclined.” I like it. They can spin anything. I’m not a tall person, so handling this for a short flight isn’t a problem. If you are tall, please look at the picture of the hip young man above. There is no room for long legs.

What is the biggest problem with Spirit Airlines? If you care about getting somewhere on time, you don’t want to risk flying Spirit. According to Fortune magazine, Spirit has the worst on-time performance record in the country. Only 49.9% of their flights arrive on time. My experience is right in line with that — on time to New Orleans, 45 minutes late back to Houston.

If you are making a multi-leg trip where making connections is key, hhmmm. Flying Spirit is not a great idea, because there is a high probability you could miss your connecting flight. In his blog, View from the Wing, Gary Leff puts it this way, “The biggest issue is that they [Spirit] don’t have a big, redundant route network. That’s at the heart of their business model, it’s how they make money. But it also makes them less reliable . . . When a flight cancels or faces a significant delay there aren’t a lot of alternate ways to get you to your destination.” It’s not surprising that Fortune magazine also reports that they have the most complaints of any airline in the U.S..

Did I enjoy flying Spirit? No, not really, but it wasn’t bad either. Would I fly Spirit again? Yes. But only a direct flight to places where an on time arrival isn’t a big deal.

Let’s put it this way. I won’t be getting rid of my Delta Skymiles American Express card anytime in the near future.

By the way, the Fortune article listed Delta Airlines as having an over 82% on-time record.

Update: Overweight Bag Charges

I flew Spirit in December 2016 — a cheap flight from Orlando to Houston, even with paying for a checked bag. One thing I did NOT realize: Spirit has a 40 lb. limit on their checked bags. All other domestic carriers in the USA have 50 lb. limit. So, if you are thinking you will carry a larger suitcase and not take a carry-on, which Spirit charges for, think again.

This caught me unawares. I always pay attention to my bag weight. My suitcase is a standard checked-bag size — not over-sized, and I never have a problem going over 50 lbs. — but it never occurred to me that Spirit had a lower weight limit (okay, it should have occurred to me, but it didn’t). My bag weighed 42 lbs. – so, that will be an extra $30 please — Cha-ching! Just another thing to be aware of and to plan for if you plan to fly Spirit.

Spirit Airlines: Overweight Bag Charges
41 – 50 lbs. (18 – 23 kg) + $30
51 – 70 lbs. (23 – 32 kg) + $55
71 – 100 lbs. (32 – 45 kg) + $100
63-80 linear inches (158-203 cm) + $100
Special items over 80 linear inches (203 cm) + $150

Another note on my December 2016 trip: both flights were on time, and at the Houston airport, Spirit had added an additional employee in front of the ticket counter to assist passengers with printing boarding passes at self-service kiosks — so they didn’t have to pay $10 at the counter to have an agent do it. The Spirit employees were friendly and truly helpful. At Orlando, there was a Spirit employee actively working the line to get passengers whose flights were close to leaving taken care of quickly. Customer service at both airports  has definitely have improved from my first experience with Spirit last March.

The improvement in customer service is a major focus of the new CEO, Bob Fornaro, who took over the top job at Spirit Airlines almost a year ago. Last February, Fornaro said there are no plans to change Spirit’s fee-heavy business model, but he did say it’s time to “focus on continuing to improve operational reliability and customer service.”

“The kind of complaints we want to remove is when we lose the bag we don’t recover. Or when we have a four-hour delay and we don’t get the customer where they need to go.”

My take-away again: If you are going to fly Spirit, do your homework. Be VERY aware of their extra charges for everything. I would still be wary of planning trips with connecting flights, since Spirit’s on-time record is the worst in the industry.


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Additional Articles on Spirit Airlines

Bhaskara, Vinay. “Has “The Spirit Effect” Replaced ” The Southwest Effect?” – Airchive.” Airchive, 20 Feb. 2014, airwaysnews.com/blog/2013/07/20/has-the-spirit-effect-replaced-the-southwest-effect/.

Chew, Jonathan. “These airlines finished last in the latest on-Time list.” Fortune These airlines finished last in the latest ontime list Comments, 11 Aug. 2015, fortune.com/2015/08/12/airlines-on-time-list-spirit/.

Elliott, Christopher. “A Tale of Two Airlines.” National Geographic Travel, Jan. 2013, travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/traveler-magazine/the-insider/airline-comparison/.

Leff, Gary. “Why I Won’t Fly Spirit Airlines – View from the Wing.” View from the Wing, 12 July 2015, viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2015/07/12/why-i-wont-fly-spirit-airlines/.

Leff, Gary. “Spirit Airlines CEO Fired: Didn’t Manage to Charge Enough Fees – View from the Wing.” View from the Wing, 5 Jan. 2016, viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2016/01/05/spirit-airlines-ceo-fired-didnt-manage-to-charge-enough-fees/.

Mutzabaugh, Ben. “Spirit’s new CEO: Fees stay, but service must improve.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, Dec. 2016, www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/todayinthesky/2016/02/10/spirit-ceo-fees-stay-but-service-improve/80190514/.

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About Ann (62 Articles)
Writer, traveler, and cancer fighter. Get out there and live life!

4 Comments on Trippin’ with Spirit Airlines

  1. At first, I thought that airline would be great until you said about the bag fees and not alot of leg room. My fiance is 6’2′ and he would hate it. I think we would stick with Delta.

    • If you do try Spirit, your fiancé will want to get a premium seat (either exit row or the “big” seats upfront. As I said in the article, I’ll fly Spirit every now and then for short trips – but I always look at the total cost of the extras before making a decision. Delta remains my main airline.

  2. ha ha! good review. I don’t think I have heard of this in Canada but we have Westjet.

    • Yes, Spirit is special — but like I said, I’ll certainly fly them now and then. It’s hard to pass up such inexpensive tickets :-).

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