Budget airlines are sweeping the world's air travel industry - from Air Asia in the East, Ryanair in Europe and Spirit Airlines here in the United States. When I think of budget carriers like Spirit Airlines, I have a few concerns - price gouging, safety, comfort and service quality chief among them.
Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to save more than $100 by flying Spirit Airlines from Atlanta, Georgia to Orlando, Florida. Because the flight length is just over an hour, it was a great opportunity to test out the airline for the first time. I'd like to share my experience and offer a few tips for making the most of your own travel with Spirit Airlines.
As a general rule of thumb, budget airlines are only "budget" if you travel light. Just because the base fare was $100 cheaper than those offered by the big carriers, I had to be conscious of the add-ons at Spirit.
If you plan to check a bag, pay the $30 at the time of booking. If you wait, you'll pay more: $40 at online check-in, $50 at airport check-in and $100 (!!!) at the boarding gate.
Everyone gets a free personal item, but it MUST fit within the dimensions of 16" x 14" x 12". If you plan to carry on a larger item, that will cost you $35 at booking, $45 at online check-in, $55 at airport check-in and $100 at the gate.
Don't put yourself in a position that will require a $100 outlay at the gate! That is no way to begin a trip, and will almost certainly wipe away any savings you might have gained by flying Spirit, or other budget carriers like Frontier Airlines.
I made my reservation the day before departure on the Spirit Airlines website. The fare was $40.09, plus a checked bag fee of $30.00 for a total of $70.09.
The website allowed me to request wheelchair assistance, and to notify the airline that I was traveling with my own powered wheelchair.
Check-in with an agent at the desk incurs an additional fee, so I printed my boarding pass at the hotel.
You can also check-in at the airport for free, by using the automated kiosk. I took my boarding pass to the bag drop at the airport and handed over my checked bag.
Because I had not elected to pay for a seat assignment, the system automatically assigned me seat 13D - an aisle seat. I was worried I might be stuck in a middle seat, which I have thankfully never had to endure in more than 400 flights as a wheelchair user. At the bag drop, the attendant moved me closer to the front, to seat 8D.
Wheelchair Accessible Boarding on Spirit Airlines
I checked-in at the boarding gates about 15 minutes before boarding commenced. The gate agents tagged my wheelchair for gate delivery in Orlando.
I asked about the possibility of moving to a window seat, since being on the aisle is difficult for me. Being hit with other passengers' bags as they board and deplane is not fun. Since there were no empty window seats, the gate agent moved me up to one of the Big Front Seats - for free. This option was available for $40 at the time of booking. I was grateful for the upgrade, but would not expect this to happen in the future.
The aisle chair was ready for me at the start of barding, and I was allowed to pre-board the aircraft. Unfortunately, the gate agent sent down the parents with children at the same time, and they got to watch me transfer and board using the aisle chair. I hate this lack of privacy, and I do believe that it violates the intent of pre-boarding under the Air Carrier Access Act. I have similar issues like this at American Airlines, which is the carrier I am loyal to.
I was not offered a specialized safety briefing onboard the aircraft.
The flight went smoothly, and we arrived on-time to Orlando. The Big Front Seat was much larger than the seats behind me, and I was able to take a short nap.
Refreshments are offered on the plane, but nothing is free. Not even water. I paid $3 for a can of Cranberry Apple juice. Only credit/debit cards are accepted onboard - cash won't fly.
The Airbus A319 aircraft offered no inflight entertainment or wi-fi, so I was happy my iPhone was fully charged - I listened to music before nodding off in the clouds.
The flight crew was friendly, and the lead flight attendant took a selfie with me after we arrived in Orlando.
Spirit outsources wheelchair assistance at Orlando International Airport to Prospect, and the team there almost always does a great job.
My power wheelchair was returned within 30 minutes, as required by the ACAA, and I was off to baggage claim.
When I arrived to the baggage belt, it was empty. I went to the Spirit Airlines baggage office, only to find it closed - my bag locked inside. Save a 5-minute stop at the bathroom, I had gone straight to baggage claim. What gives??
The agent had left, and since it was the last Spirit Airlines arrival of the night, I was out of luck. I rolled around the airport for 10 minutes, hoping to find someone who could help. Finally, I saw a guy running to the Spirit baggage office.
I questioned why he had left so soon after the flight, and before I had come to claim my bag. "I called you over the intercom multiple times," he said.
"I was waiting on your airline to return my wheelchair at the gate, so I never heard those announcements," I replied.
"I didn't know that," he said. "It's good for you that I left my cell phone here and had to come back."
I was speechless. If he hadn't mistakenly left his cell phone at the office, I'd have been left without my bag for the night. While this may just be proof of a horrible employee, I worry that it could point to a larger issue of the company's culture. I hope that is not the case.
"Would you fly Spirit again?"
Yesterday, a friend asked me if I would fly Spirit again. The truth is, my experience wasn't bad - until baggage claim. Spirit Airlines isn't as buttoned up as my preferred carrier. It's more laid back and the experience is very "budget," from the crew uniforms to the seats and overall experience. But those things aren't a big deal.
So, will I fly them again? Sure, perhaps. If the savings is substantial, if I'm traveling light and if the flight is nonstop and short. For the most part, though, I'll stick with the big global airlines.
Have you flown with Spirit Airlines or another budget carrier?
What was your experience like? What was good? What was bad?