If You Say You Don’t Like to Fly Spirit, You’re Running Out of Excuses

A couple of years ago, it was easy to come up with a laundry list of reasons why you would never want to fly Spirit Airlines. No frills, a poorly-run operation, you name it. Slowly, however, the airline has been chipping away at all of those possible complaints. You may think you have plenty of reasons why you don’t like to fly the airline, but you may be surprised to find that many of them are no longer valid.

Let’s go through some of these complaints.

I need to get places on time. Spirit doesn’t seem to understand how to make that happen.
To me this was the biggest and best reason to avoid flying Spirit in the past. But ever since Bob Fornaro came in to run the airline, he has put a focus on running a better operation. The changes have been more dramatic than I expected.

I figured an improved operation meant Spirit would still hover below the industry average, but nope. It’s now outperforming the industry and turning in really solid numbers.

This, of course, doesn’t mean you’ll never run into problems, but it means that your chances of having trouble have dropped significantly. Of course, when you do have problems in those increasingly rare cases, Spirit still won’t have the same kind of reaccommodation options as others. So it’s still worth keeping that in mind.

Ok, that’s good, but I hear checking in with Spirit is hard, and you might get dinged $100 to bring a carry-on bag if you aren’t careful.
Checking in used to be more challenging, but you’d never get hit with a $100 carry-on fee unless you were deliberately trying to subvert the rules. (That is for people who check in, say they aren’t bringing a carry-on bag, and then get caught lying at the gate when they try to board.)

Checking in is actually pretty easy. Just don’t wait until you get to the airport. You can now not only check-in online but you can also do it on the airline’s app. If you haven’t paid for bags in advance, you can do it all there. It’s no different than flying any other airline as long as you do it in advance.

I still have to pay to carry on a bag, and that sucks.
At least you have the ability to carry a bag on the airplane. If you buy a ticket on United or American, you might end up buying a Basic Economy seat. If you do that, you can’t bring a carry-on bag on the airplane at all, even if you were willing to pay. The big guys have made it so punitive and complex that it makes Spirit’s fee structure look downright civilized. Still, it’s always best to just compare pricing including a carry-on bag in advance. Spirit is still often likely to be cheaper.

And while we’re at it, the carry-on bag fee on Spirit encourages people to check bags. (The fee to check bags is lower.) That means there are fewer bags on the airplane, less fighting for overhead bin space, and an easier boarding process.

There’s no way I’m standing in those long security lines. I only fly airlines with Pre Check.
That’s an oldie-but-goodie. Spirit started participating with Pre Check in January 2017, so it’s no longer an issue.

I’m starting to soften, but I remain skeptical. Let’s see… ooh, I need wifi. Spirit has no wifi!
I agree that this is a big turn-off for business travelers, but it’s changing. Spirit announced last week as part of its new Invest in the Guest campaign that it will begin rolling out satellite wifi this year. The fleet will be outfitted within about a year. It won’t be free, but Spirit says the average cost will be $6.50 with longer flights costing more and shorter ones costing less. It looks like there are also plans for streaming entertainment onboard as well. This fast wifi is going to make Spirit look good even against some of the legacy airlines that still haven’t fully divorced their slow ground-based options.

Of course, there’s still no power onboard, so that’s something to keep in mind for long flights. I’d say the same thing about Southwest, however, since that airline still refuses to install power.

Ok, fine. There is, however, one last problem. I can’t sit in those knee-crushing seats. It’s too painful.
This is the one argument that still holds water. Spirit’s legroom is terrible, but that’s the trade-off that you need to make if you want the lowest fares. Spirit does have options, however. You can pay for an exit row when you buy your ticket, or you can opt for the Big Front Seat. That’s just a domestic First Class seat with none of the frills. It’s one of the best values in the air today.

I’d personally love to see Spirit roll out an extra legroom section the way Frontier has with Stretch seating, but Spirit may not think it can make enough money on that right now. What I do know is that Spirit has invested in making the experience flying the airline much better all the way around. Most of these investments (except for operational integrity) aren’t big costs. At least with wifi, the cost will be recouped via fees for use. That means Spirit can still keep its costs down and its fares low.

Over the last couple years, Spirit has quietly made its experience much closer to what the legacy airlines offers. Having this kind of competitive product in markets where the legacies fly means it’s a viable option even for business travelers as long as the flights happen to be at the right time. For a leisure traveler with more flexibility, Spirit should absolutely now be in the consideration set. As long as Spirit can avoid too much cost creep, it can keep offering low fares with a vastly improved experience. This should make the legacies nervous.

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72 Responses to If You Say You Don’t Like to Fly Spirit, You’re Running Out of Excuses

  1. walkermert says:

    My excuse is that Spirit doesn’t fly to where I live….

    • ChuckMO says:

      Same here. I would definitely give them a shot if they flew STL-somewhere I wanted to go.

    • WillinNorCal says:

      Same here at SMF.

    • Georjet says:

      My excuse, aside from them not flying where I live (thank God and I have flown them before) is they are rated 2 stars on skytrax (and that is hard to do), their seat pitch is incompatible with life, and their corporate livery is garish and although most people here likely would not agree, I think flying should be about style. Spirit could do a little better in that arena even if they are low cost. There is nothing wrong with doing something with a little style about the whole thing.

      • David M says:

        Use Skytrax as an excuse if you want, but most knowledgeable folks consider their ratings to be garbage.

        • Adrian in NZ says:

          Why? Because there are no US airlines near the top? The reality is that the service on US airlines is crap compared to quite a few other world airlines. The TSA and Customs/Border staff are rude and overly officious.

          • Jerry says:

            Nobody would expect to see any US airline at the top. What disappoints us are things like Lufthansa’s intra-Europe J being rated as “five star.”

  2. Mike says:

    What a nice softball of a post. I hope Spirit didn’t have to pay too much for it.

    • J Walter says:

      I found it informative, several things I didn’t know. Maybe it’s a set up for a Cranky “what’s next” post on NK’s network, playing off the last line in the post.

    • John Ham says:

      That would be illegal and Brett would have to disclose that…This comment is old and tiring

    • Dave at GSP says:

      Nobody is making you read Brett‘s blog.

  3. grichard says:

    For me the issue would be recovery in irregular operations. Has that got any better?

    • Kilroy says:

      Same thing for me. 2-3x weekly flights on many routes mean that if a storm hits, a plane breaks down, and/or a flight gets cancelled, there goes half of your week’s vacation. I suppose others are willing to take that risk, but I gladly pay more to avoid it.

    • CF says:

      Grichard – Well to start, there are fewer irregular operations than there used to be, so that’s a helpful base. But Bob Fornaro outlined to me last year that for same day reaccomm, they’ll still keep you on Spirit, but if they can’t do it within the same day, they’ll buy a ticket on other airlines. So it’s a lot better than it used to be.
      http://crankyflier.com/2017/09/26/spirit-ceo-bob-fornaro-on-the-benefits-of-operational-improvement-across-the-aisle/

      • grichard says:

        To be fair, he only said they’d use other airlines if the initial cancellation was their fault. So if weather cancels the inbound flight, for example, you’d be out of luck.

        • CF says:

          grichard – Yes, but that’s pretty standard for most airlines. Sometimes they can make exceptions, but they usually won’t put you on another airline if it’s weather, ATC, etc.

          • grichard says:

            I don’t think the policy is unreasonable. But if it happened on a major, they’d be much more able to get me to my destination using their own metal without a multiple-day delay.

  4. Richard DeAgazio says:

    A short while ago, my girlfriend was on Spirit – BOS/PBI route. she asked for a cup of coffee. The FA Asked How she would like it prepared. she responded “Black please”

    The FA scolded her and said that was an inappropriate way to order coffee. Stunned, she asked what do you mean. It is racist. You should ask “without Cream or sugar” The FA was African-American!

    That is it for Spirit for this family!

    • Kilroy says:

      I hope your girlfriend sent in a complaint. Even if it’s a legitimate complaint by the crew member (e.g., if someone refers to an FA as a “girl”), there are far better (more subtle, more polite) ways to correct customers than to call them out so directly like that.

      I’d be tempted to respond to the FA, “Wow, I really like your shoes. Where I can buy shoes like that in a color that does not resemble cream, sugar, cherry, or mahogany?”

      Sometimes black is just a color and an adjective, nothing more.

    • David SF east bay says:

      I’m from a generation like generations before me who ordered coffee black or with cream & sugar or just cream or just sugar. I would not order it any other way, since that’s how I know how to order coffee.

  5. Kilroy says:

    My biggest argument against Spirit, Allegiant, etc is the low frequency (less than daily, often 2-3x weekly) that they fly many of their domestic routes and the (relative) lack of spare planes and extra capacity.

    If you’re on, say, a domestic Delta flight and it gets cancelled, not a big deal, there’s another flight a few hours later on most routes, or early the next day at worst, and unless the cancellation is due to a massive storm you are extremely unlikely to be left stranded for > 24 hours. If you’re on Spirit/Allegiant and the plane breaks down or the flight gets cancelled, you lose half your week’s vacation waiting until their next departure on the route 2-3 days hence.

    Does that happen every day? No, probably not. However, when it does happen and someone loses 2 or 3 days of their 10 or 15 days off a year waiting to catch the next ULCC flight out, it really, really sucks for them. That’s why I will usually pay a significant premium to fly an airline that has at least daily departures on a domestic route.

    International routes (especially those beyond just the Caribbean) are another story, as many international routes among the legacy carriers still see sub-daily service, or daily service at best. However (and feel free to correct me on this), I feel like there is generally a little more slack in the system for international scheduling, with the planes and turns not pushed as hard as on the domestic routes.

  6. Juan says:

    The only problem i see with spirit is the long lines at bag drop, the check in counters in ATL and FLL as very small and ill attended for the number of people dropping bags or making changes to flights.. with spirit you need to get to the airport 3 hours before flight for sure, the other guys 1 hour in ATL is enough

  7. Jeremy Anderson says:

    Can you still save $5 purchasing the ticket in person at the Airport?

    Spirit Big Front Seat is the best deal going ever, on DTW-OAK flights its the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    My wife forgot the “you have to pay for everything rule” and asked for a cup of water. The FA mentioned the cost and my wife demurred, not due to cost but she just didn’t feel like digging out her wallet. The FA told her that if it was for medication the water was free. Wink wink nudge.

    Overall a great experience.

    • CF says:

      Jeremy – Ah yes, the “Passenger Usage Charge” is still in effect. It varies from $8.99 to $19.99 each way so it’s big money. ( https://www.spirit.com/OptionalServices) Of course, when you’re comparing online, that amount is included in the shown price. But people should keep in mind if they want to schlep to the airport, it can save money.

  8. Lord Dima says:

    That sure sounds like a Spirit infomercial :)

    All valid points thou, however, the nagatives may still outweigh the positives for some.

  9. Rowdy Yates says:

    The only airline at my airport that needs Airport Police for crowd control to prevent a riot for a delayed flight. Where does Spirit advertise, Craig’s List?

  10. A says:

    Most of the comments already hit on my concerns about flying Spirit. Then there is the case of my father. My folks are retired, fixed income, so they do shop for the lowest fare. They took a flight to Florida a couple years back. After getting home he had a blood clot in his leg release and go to his lungs. He ended up in the hospital for several days and nearly lost his life. Doctor said the 3+ hour flight cramped in Spirit steerage probably caused the clot. Granted, he should’ve got up and moved around a bit in flight – and he does that now on flights, but when it comes to placing blame, he blames Spirit. They did not set their seat pitch for people over 6′-0″ tall and they should definitely avoid.

  11. Jean-Luc says:

    I’m 6’6″. My excuse has always been legroom. Unless Economy Plus/Premium Economy/whatever-they-call-it on the majors shrinks to the size of Spirit’s seats, this will remain my excuse

  12. Alex says:

    When Bob Fonaro took over I knew things would improve. They are still a ULCC but Bob knows the how to run an airline, especially one this size. Too much experience and success with FL and WN to not improve the operation.

  13. Jonathan says:

    Good article! I’m a fairly regular flier (over 1m miles flown, currently 20-30k miles per year), and just took my first Spirit flight; it was a pleasantly positive experience. Traveled with my wife and three kids under 6 from Detroit to San Diego, on the way over used miles on United via Houston and nonstop on the way back on Spirit. The biggest plus was the schedule, as the only UA options were either early morning departures or redeyes, while Spirit’s timing was almost perfect (10:45am departure, 6:11pm arrival). Price was great even with bags and carry-ons, and we did our homework so no last minute fees. Seats were tight (although there was an empty row next to us we moved into which helped), but not that much worse than Economy Minus on United. I would certainly never go out of my way to fly them, but if I’m on a route where I have to choose between a layover or a nonstop on Spirit I’d be happy to fly them again.

  14. Jorg says:

    I so wait for the day you will write such a positive article about Alitalia. I’d get drunk that night :)

  15. Matt D says:

    Completely glossed over what has long arguably been the biggest complaint of all: cognitive dissonance and the unreasonable expectation of expecting Macy’s service at Wal-Mart prices and not getting it. Why is that seldom ever talked about? The airlines aren’t always the problem. Much if not most of the time, the people themselves are.

    I agree with others here. I also asked myself if this was a “sponsored” post.

    Even if it’s not a shill, it sure *seemed* that way.

  16. mandel.jerry1 says:

    You didn’t mention that Spirit is notorious for canceling flights at the last minute leaving people stranded.

    • Oliver says:

      The question is, how often does it actually happen? What is their completion rate?

    • CF says:

      Jerry – I didn’t mention it, because it’s not true, at least from what I can see. Spirit is now pretty firmly in the middle of the pack when it comes to cancellations. It’s of course not as good as Delta or Alaska, but it’s pretty similar to American and generally better than nearly all regional carriers. This is all part of the big operational improvement over the last couple years.

      • Carter says:

        I’ve had two Spirit flights cancelled on me last minute leaving me in the lurch, forced to book on another airline. Never again. I see what you’re doing here, Cranky. The last time Spirit was going to leave me hanging in Phoenix for two days waiting on a flight I almost hired Cranky Concierge to get me to Chicago on time. Salty Spirit travelers might be a really good target market for your services :)

  17. Mark says:

    Like you mentioned already: when things go bad, their recovery options are usually awful. I still avoid ULCCs for the sole purpose that a flight cancellation generally means you’re out of luck getting to where you want to go for at least a day, sometimes longer.

  18. Darin says:

    (1) Are NK fares so low that I don’t care about earning miles?

    (2) How are IRROPs handled? Sure low frequency is an issue, but what about the customer service aspect?

    Would have liked to see information about this in the post, or future posts.

    • CF says:

      Darin – I have no idea how to answer #1 since everyone will have a different view. Plus, the fare difference will vary every time. The point is that Spirit is worth being put in the consideration set whereas in the past, I wouldn’t have done so.

      On #2, I don’t know about the actual experience at the airport when something goes wrong, but from a policy perspective, Spirit will buy you a ticket on another airline if you can’t get on a Spirit flight the same day. As noted in the post, it’s not as easy to find reaccommodation on Spirit as with the others.

      • A says:

        Regarding #1, I’d assume most of us commenting here are fairly frequent fliers so for our group I think the answer is probably no. I’ve price compared them many times against DL, WN and SY from my home airport and they are usually not the lowest fare. DL is most commonly the most but to me $25 isn’t a big deal when I have at least a shot at upgrades. Even C+ is a huge [massive] improvement over NK.

        I’m not shy about saying DL is my preferred and AA is my #2. Fare differences need to be at least a Benjamin difference one-way for me to consider a ULCC. That is rare from my experience but as they say – your mileage may vary.

  19. bill says:

    That chart is awfully misleading! It makes 24 months (2016-2017, when Spirit paled behind the industry average) look identically sized to *two months* of 2018 (January and February, when they were ahead).

    • Bill from DC says:

      That’s a very good point. I just eyeballed the chart at first and came to a much different conclusion than when I looked at it after reading your post.

  20. Bill Hough says:

    Major US airlines, such as UA, AA and DL have so devalued their product that Sprint begins to look like a reasonable alternative. Might as well pay a little more and go with Southwest.

  21. Mike says:

    Spanish Inquisition seats, surly cabin crew, pre-dawn departures and/or past midnight arrivals … what’s not to like?

    • Juan from CHI says:

      The pre-dawn departures are great if you’re making a connection to the Caribbean or Latin America. It lets you arrive early enough to enjoy your 1st day. AA has many of them to MIA.

      The sears are not bad for a 2-3 hour flight.

  22. JayB says:

    I suppose we all have criteria for what is important to us when we choose airlines. And, we weight them differently, often from trip to trip, but in general, for me its (1) price, not just the lowest, (2) destinations available, (3) aircraft comfort, (4) pleasurability of the travel experience, (5) simplicity in being able to figure out what you are paying and for what, (6) reliability of the service, (7) consistency of the service over time, and (8) loyalty rewards. For me, Spirit ranks low, very low on each of these things. Not that it’s worse than the other ULCCs, but thank goodness I have other airlines from which to choose.

  23. Sean S. says:

    On time performance is no where near as relevant as schedule. Their schedules almost always require a person to take a day off if you work a standard 9-5. My PTO and my wife’s time off are, on an hourly basis, more valuable than the discount that Spirit offers versus flying Delta at a time that doesn’t require PTO use. We did the math on a recent visit to see family and figured out that taking an early Friday morning flight that required us to take a day off would cost us over a 1000+ in PTO, to save only a hundred dollars or so per ticket on Delta. That’s a no brainer.

  24. Raphael says:

    I knew someone who flew spirit once. two weeks later, BAM herpes

    • Scott says:

      and was it verified it was from Spirit, or quite possibly from your friends shady exploits beforehand?

  25. Doug Swalen says:

    The seat issue is the central issue. All the others, save for the carry on bag fee which is ridiculously punitive to anyone with valuables or fragile items that they wouldn’t dare check through with baggage, are window dressing. The rest of the ala carte pricing never bothered me. But making carry ons cost more than checked bags is just plain mean to many people.

    I will never EVER fly Spirit unless you hold a gun to my head. I already flew Cebu so I know what the experience can be like….though I suspect Cebu is probably worse than Spirit. No thanks.

    • A says:

      +1000. Never thought about it but I’ve flown with stuff that I’d never-ever-in-a-million-years put in checked luggage. Financially punishing someone for carrying on, a wedding dress for example, is not customer friendly. Never mind the huge loss of time for a business traveler to wait for luggage.

      • DenMark says:

        That’s the point. It is more convenient to carry-on for many (almost all non-leisure travelers and many leisure travellers as well)… Spirit believes this is a more desirable product and thus they can charge a premium. There is also the tangential benefit of less carry-on baggage so quicker turns on the ground. Nothing about it is a financial punishment…

  26. Their two biggest issues are the lack of pitch. As an elite member of an airline, I like being able to book straight into Y+ and have at least 34″ of pitch. I have trouble with 31″, I could not imagine 28″ without being really miserable and the fact their network is very limited. I can’t think of many places where I’ve flown where Spirit is a viable option. But, if it works for you, go for it.

  27. J Bird says:

    My family of 4 has been flying spirit 3 to 4 time a year for the past 3 years. We also fly delta once a year to travel on a route spirit does not fly. We do not mind spirit at all. I think they will become the next southwest with a solid customer base and lower labor costs. What I wonder about is will spirit run out of cash prior to the company changing the public’s perception of them since they started off with bad customer relations (it was just changing as we started flying them).

  28. Anthony says:

    I flew Spirit once, years ago. OAK-IAH. Everything went fine. So I quit while I was ahead. ;-)

  29. Bill from DC says:

    It’s not just the pitch, it’s the seat itself. I felt like I was sitting on steel I beams with a thin layer of pleather stretched over. Worst in flight experience I’ve ever had.

    All other airlines > spirit > not going

  30. stan says:

    spirit is still an absolute sh*tshow during irrops. you may save a few bucks on the total cost of flying, but you get no peace of mind when it comes to dealing with any problems that come up.

  31. Rob says:

    CF this is the first time I have thought about this with you, but how much did spirit pay you for this post?

  32. ok, you’ve obviously never had to call their Customer Service. SO PAINFUL.
    They also have the most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever encountered. And not even the “big seats” in the front recline.

  33. Sue says:

    Made reservations to fly to my class reunion… day before Spirit cancelled flight. Made reservations with American through travel site. Baggage 50lbs..our return flight was Back to Spirit…now I have to lose 10lbs or pay!! Would be nice if weight limits were the same. Oh and what happened to the $9.00 club. I would not mind paying the fee for a family….but per person is really pricey

  34. Juan in Chi says:

    It all depend on your station of origin. I’m in Chicago and only consider Spirit for non stop domestic flights.Spirit doesn’t have any of those 2 or 3 times a week domestic flight from Chicago. Most of the destination east of the Mississippi River have multiple options a day when you consider non-stop and connecting flights. This makes IRROPs less risky from ORD but not perfect. The safest options are ORD-FLL and ORD-LAS. They both have 3 non-stop flight plus another 5 or 6 connection options. The riskiest option is are ORD-RSW or ORD-MYR. Fort Myers has a single daily non-stop flight. However, Its only a 2 hour drive to Fort Lauderdale or Tampa that has many options. Myrtle Beach has 1 daily non-stop and 1 connecting flight. Its not close to another Spirit if those options don’t work for you.

    You should take a look at your city and see if it make sense. Don’t exclude them completely. They can be a nice options on some routes. I still fly United Basic Economy more than Spirit because I have a United Vise card that removed the carry on restriction. I’m giving Spirit a try for an international flight this week. I’m going to Medellin Colombia, ORD-FLL-MDE, but I have a backup of Copa Airlines if things get bad on the return..

  35. Mike Jarvis says:

    I agree… this post seems very much like an advertisement for spirit…

    99% of the people you ask if they have ever ridden on spirit have negative things to say

    Come to think of it I have never come across anyone that has said how much they love spirit. I hear more like I hear about allegiant… “I did that once, never again”

  36. TC99 says:

    I flew NK a few years back FLL-MCO, to drive my mother’s car down for her. I remember seeing somewhere that if you went to the airport and purchased the ticket there, you would save money. I bought the ticket one week in advance at the airport, paid a total of $19.00 all in. Good thing, no luggage at all as I was driving home that day.

    My shuttle to the airport from my house was $35.00 and the shuttle from MCO to Ocala was $45.00, so by price, I think it was a great deal for someone who didn’t need to check bags.

  37. MSPFlyer says:

    As an MSP based flyer, Spirit has essentially taken all of my business away from Delta. I always book the Big Front Seat and find even with the fees, etc. I’m still paying less or exactly the same as a Comfort+ seat and actually getting a way more comfortable seat. Spirit couldn’t be more transparent with their fees, etc. I’ve yet to encounter a bad flight crew and thoroughly enjoy flying them.

  38. Chris says:

    my problem is when spirit cancel or delay your flight, they have no back up and you are stranded for a day.

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