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have plenty of reasons why you don’t like to fly the airline, but you may be surprised to find that many of them are no longer valid.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.