This is what it’s like to fly Spirit Airlines

Lance Ulanoff
Jan 7, 2018 · 6 min read

I never thought of Delta as a luxury airline, until I flew Spirit Airlines.

Spirit undercuts prices on virtually everyone else by unbundling all the “frills” you take for granted on other airlines.

Prior to this trip and despite its surprisingly long history, I was only vaguely aware of Spirit Airlines. I recall a former coworker suggesting I book a last-minute flight on it and, to be honest, I dismissed the idea out of hand.

However, my recent employment status change meant that I would be footing the bill for my next business trip. So, I began searching for the lowest possible fares. That’s when I stumbled on Spirit Airlines. It beat the nearest prices by a factor of at least two. Granted, my round-trip to Las Vegas would include a stop in Detroit (the flight back is with another low-cost carrier: Sun Country).

I booked quickly and then forgot about it until my trip date approached and I got the first of a handful of semi-urgent email messages, each one reminding me I had yet to complete my Spirit Airline travel booking experience.

The first one informed me that I needed to “purchase bags” for my upcoming trip. Since I already own luggage, I didn’t quite understand why I would want or need to buy more from Spirit Airlines. It soon became clear, however, that Spirit wanted me to pay for my carry-on luggage. They were happy to accommodate a satchel or backpack (provided it was small enough) to slide under the seat in front of me, but I’d have to pay $45 to bring on my suitcase. If I didn’t pay for my carry-on in advance, it would cost me more at the airport.

In a subsequent email, I noticed that Spirit Airlines was encouraging me to buy my seat in advance, “Oh, right,” I thought, “I don’t know where I’m sitting — on either leg of my trip.”

I followed a link to Spirit Airlines web site and found that my ticket does not include the price of an assigned seat. For each leg of the trip I paid an additional $29 for my two aisle seats. My $169 flight to Las Vegas now cost me (after another $35 “Government’s Cut”) $276. You can save money on all these fees if you become a Spirit Airlines member and pay $9 a month. Not knowing if I would ever fly this airline again, I declined.

As for the seats I purchased, they do not recline. This helps Spirit Airlines fit more seats on its shiny, new, yellow airplanes. If I want to recline, I pay more.

I will give Spirit Airlines this: They are very good at staying in touch. My inbox was flooded with little reminders. Sure, 50% of them were pitches for upgrades or “frills” that would cost me more money, but there were also helpful notes reminding me to arrive early to deal with bigger lines due to the backup of delayed passengers from Bomb Cyclone. They also let me know that if I did not check-in online in advance of my flight, I’d have to pay another $10.

Fortunately, Spirit Airlines does have an app and, yes, I was able to add my boarding pass to my digital wallet and Apple Watch. Sadly, the final gate check-in counter lacked the equipment to let me scan my watch while it was still on my wrist.

These seats are clearly new. Not super-comfortable, but, yes, very new.

Inside my Spirit Airlines airplane, I found clean, spare looking blue leather-covered seats. Sure enough, mine did not recline. In place of a seat pocket, there was what looked like a crisscrossed bungy cord. The fold-down tray table was the size of an iPad mini. There was no screen or technology of any sort on the clean, curved back of the seat in front of me. At least no one could recline into my lap. (More expensive, reclining seats are in a different section). In-flight Wi-Fi, by the way, is not an option.

There were three flight attendants on the first leg of my flight who all seemed like they just walked off a matinee performance of The Producers. They were smiling, not in a forced, fake, “fly the friendly skies” fashion, but with barely contained impish glee. At one point, they all converged around the passengers seated in the emergency exit row and start singing, encouraging those passengers to join in. It didn’t go very far, but that, ahem, Spirited attitude continued for the duration of the flight.

Even their pre-flight safety check was lively and, it appeared to me, more choreographed than normal. Of course, the tasks of informing passengers about the safety features of your plane is now typically left to the screen on the back of the seat in front of you, But there was no screen here. So, the attendants lined up down the aisle and then performed a sort of safety dance. It’s the first time in years I’ve paid attention to one of those routines.

Late in the flight, an attendant led the passengers through some “airplane yoga.” “Shrug your shoulders,” she commanded, and I noticed some people following along. Soon she had the entire flight raising their arms and reaching for the cabin ceiling. It felt pretty good, too.

Spirit Airlines has, at most, one gate in each terminal and it always looks like they’ve been retrofitted for the experience. Notice how the graphics don’t quite fit the screen.

The lead attendant took every opportunity to make jokes on the intercom. As we were landing in Detroit, and he walked us through our landing and connection details, he added, “If you’re passing through, you’re lucky.”

As we prepared to land, and the attendants were making one last pass through the cabin, he told us to give the attendants anything we wanted to get rid of and, pausing for a comedic beat, added, “Sorry, no misbehaving children.”

Finally, right before we deplaned he said, “If you wish to make any complaints, its ‘Jetblue.com’” Sure, these jokes sound cheesy here, but, perhaps because of the altitude, they all landed during the flight.

I can’t say for certain that it’s like this on all Spirit Flights. There were no jokes or Yoga on my second leg. Of course, it was later in the day and more people simply wanted to sleep. My strongest memory of that second flight was the large dog one passenger brought onboard. The nearly 3-foot-tall canine breathed heavily on my hand as he padded, backwards down the aisle. His owner commanded him to “sit down!” as the dog sneezed reluctantly. Within minutes, the dog was offering full-throated barks from his seat near the back of the plane. A few minutes later, they moved the dog up to Spirit Airline’s idea of first class: slightly larger seats at the front of the plane.

One thing I did notice on the second flight is that the Spirit Airlines attendants spends less time serving food and drinks (all of which is for-pay-only) and more time making sure they’ve collected every bit of debris you may have collected during the flight. I came to see this approach as more efficient than what I encounter on other airlines.

Yes, Spirit Airlines nickels-and-dimes you to your destination and back, but the planes are new and the crews are ultra-friendly, funny, and helpful. They made sure to identify all those passengers who had to make tight connections not only to themselves, but to all the other passengers (we raise our hands multiple times) to get their cooperation when we had to race off the plane.

Spirit Airlines is not luxury, but it’s not flea-bag either. It’s just a smart, no-frills way of getting from point A-to-B with a few semi-decent jokes thrown in for good measure. I might even fly them again.

Lance Ulanoff

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Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.