Spirit Airlines: A Good First Flight Experience
My airline of choice is Southwest; I've had many a good flight and have enjoyed the 'bags fly free', great service, and sense of humor that seems to permeate the staff. When choosing to book our flight to Armenia via Expedia however, Spirit airlines appeared to have the best scheduled departure times and fares that best met our needs.
I'd never flown Spirit before, so I asked friends and colleagues about their experience with the airline. Like many airlines, Spirit charges customers by the number of carry-on and checked bags that they bring along on their trip. There is a 40 lbs. weight limit per bag, with a $30 additional charge for bags that weigh 41-50 lbs. The cost increases as the weight of a carry-on or checked bag increases.
Passengers are allowed to take along a personal travel bag equivalent to a small daypack with measurements not to exceed 16"Lx 14"W x 12"D, with no weight limits. This was a huge plus, as we were able to stow heavy personal belongings in a day pack and two Brightline flight bags. This saved us considerable money, as we were able to pack additional items in our personal travel bags thus avoiding additional over-weight charges for our checked-bags. All of our personal travel bags stowed easily under the seat or in the stowage bins.
Between a small backpack and our two Brightline bags, we were able to stay just below the 40 lbs. limit, except for my suitcase which cost an additional $35 being 'overweight' at 50 pounds. I did over-pack for this trip and could have easily stayed within the 40 lbs. limit for a week-long trip.
Frequent business travelers and students who fly often, could easily pack everything the need for a 5-day trip into a single carryon or checked bag, taking along any needed additional items in their personal travel bag. Add Spirit's programs for frequent fliers and the option to save money by purchase baggage options in advance of the flight, and it's conceivable that travelers could find Spirit a bargain over other airlines offering similar routes and travel timetables.
Like Southwest, Spirit boards passengers by Zone, providing some passengers with first boarding privileges. As all seats are assigned when flying Spirit, there was no angst among passengers waiting to board the flight, driven by worry about acquiring a decent seat. Though I did not pay extra to choose my seat, I had a nice aisle seat and window seat for both legs of my flight. There was ample storage room both below the seats and in the storage bins above. There was even an empty center seat on the second leg of my flight, which allowed me and the window-seat passenger a bit more working and stretching room during the flight.
Spirit Airlines claims to have the 'youngest fleet' of aircraft flying, which to me suggests newer aircraft with less concern about flight safety issues and passenger comfort issues due to worn-out seats. The first leg of my flight found me on a Spirit Airbus A321 with a nice window seat. The seat, however, would not recline at all, and the passenger in front of me had his seat fully-reclined, which led to a very uncomfortable three-hour flight. While the seat had a contoured headrest that appeared to cradle one's head, the headrest fell just below my shoulders, forcing me to slump in my seat to get comfortable.
The second leg of my flight, from Ft. Lauderdale to Armenia, Colombia, found me in an aisle seat. The seat design on this Airbus A320 aircraft however, had ample legroom for my six-foot frame. The seat design was a head-and-shoulders (no pun intended) improvement over the window seat I occupied on the first leg of my flight.
When I discovered on the flight to Armenia that none of seats were designed to recline, my initial thought was that this was going to be another uncomfortable flight. Much to my surprise, I found that I did not need to recline the seat at all. I slept comfortably for half of the three-hour flight, which was a welcome relief. I was able to write this article using my laptop, as the passenger in the seat ahead of me could not recline the seat back leaving me no space to open my laptop.
The air conditioning in the A320 was a welcome relief, as it was a typically hot, muggy summer day when we departed Ft. Lauderdale for Armenia. The snack and beverage menu was ample and not overpriced; a nice option if I wanted a hot cup of coffee and brand-named breakfast muffin during my flight.
The return trip home was a different story. On arriving at El Eden International Airport in Armenia, I waiting on line about an hour to check my carry-on suitcase and get my boarding pass.
The ticket agent asked if I would like a window or aisle seat over the aircraft wing by the emergency exit, which I wholeheartedly agreed to take an aisle seat. This was an unexpected surprise, as passengers usually have to pay extra for these seats as they feature much more leg room.
Aside from the ticketing agent needing a reminder to return my debit card (to pay $30 USD for my overweight suitcase), the whole check-in process and Customs inspection was uneventful, I proceeded to the departure gate and boarded my flight to Ft. Lauderdale.
On arrival at Hollywood International Airport in Ft. Lauderdale, after an pleasant and comfortable flight from Armenia, I disembarked and zipped through U.S. Customs in less than 20 minutes or so. My traveling companions, however, were directed to another U.S. Customs processing line, which took over an hour for them to get through.
With our Denver connecting flight scheduled to depart an hour and a half after we landed, we discovered that we now needed to find our bags in baggage claim, and manually recheck our bags for the Denver flight.
With our flight already beginning to board, we rushed to the gate, only to find that I managed to misplace my boarding pass. After circling back to the ticketing area, encountering two broken kiosks, I managed to find an open kiosk that would not print a replacement boarding pass.
Obvious that I would now miss my flight, I waited my turn on the Spirit ticketing line, where a kind agent rebooked me on the next evening flight out, no extra charge. She gave me a hotel voucher, which provided me with a $69/night room rate at a Quality Inn & Suites hotel that was ten minutes from the airport.
After making an online hotel reservation at the Quality Inn via my trusty iPad, I called the hotel, and arranged for the free airport shuttle to pick me up at the airport. After 30 minutes, the hotel shuttle arrived at the ground-level hotel bus pickup area.
At the hotel, Kris the desk manager checked me in and provided a complimentary toiletry kit, as my suitcase with my bathroom necessities was on its way to Denver. The clean and comfortable air-conditioned room was a nice welcome, after the harrowing time at the Hollywood International.
Spirit can certainly make improvements to their ticketing process. I dislike the fact that the online check-in process requires a paper voucher be printed, which then needs to be exchanged for a printed boarding pass at the ticketing counter or kiosk. This process often is met with the prospect of standing on long lines at the Spirit ticketing counter, even for business passenger that have a single personal carry-on bag for their trip. Kiosks do not help matters much, as the kiosks lines at Hollywood Ft. Lauderdale airport were long. I counted several kiosks that were inoperative, or directing customers to ticketing agents, which made matters worse for time-pressed travelers.
When I fly Southwest, my boarding pass is issued electronically when I check-in online. This enables me to proceed to the departure gate saving me considerable time. My last flights on Southwest had agents scanning my electronic boarding pass displayed on my iPhone-- love it! No hassle with having to find a printer if I am on the road.
It would be a significant process improvement if Spirit could transition to issuing an electronic boarding pass when passengers check-in online. This would eliminate the time-consuming need to stand on long lines for a kiosk or ticketing agent to issue a boarding pass. With wait times on the increase at airport security and customs checkpoints, its paramount for travelers to avoid long lines at ticketing counters whenever possible.
All-in-all, I would consider flying Spirit again. I love the assigned seating, with an option to pick your own seat. While I never paid extra to select my seat, I had an aisle seat and emergency exit seating which left me plenty of room to work on my laptop during the flight and stretch out for a nap afterwards.
I'd wager that even with the extra charges I paid for 'overweight' baggage, the airfare was significantly less that other leading carrier offering service to Armenia. If you shop and purchase tickets and baggage options in advance for you flight, take advantage of Spirit's frequent-flyer programs (that include reduced costs for checked and carryon bags) and pack efficiently for your trip, I believe you can save a considerable amount of money and fly in comfort in markets that Spirit serves.