Having grown up in south Florida near Fort Lauderdale International Airport (FLL), Spirit Airlines was a household name as they were, and continue to be, one of the largest operators out of my hometown hub. Thus, I have always had a soft spot for the infamous ultra low cost carrier and their now bright yellow jets.
Starting in 1964 as a trucking company, it wasn’t until 1992 that the then charter carrier became a scheduled passenger airline and started offering flights from Detroit to Atlantic City, two cities that still play a crucial part of the Spirit network. Originally operating as a low cost carrier, even offering business class known as SpiritPlus, it wasn’t until 2007 that we saw Spirit transition into the ultra low cost carrier that we know and either love or hate today. The changes came swiftly and led the way for what other airlines of all price ranges could offer, charge for, or get away with. In 2010 they became the first US carrier to charge for carry-ons, which has become a norm with many carriers now. Other changes from ‘The Big Front Seat’ larger seats, charging for printed tickets, and more became the norm and their most argued upon aspects. However I am a strong believer that if you do your research and travel with the bare necessities, they are a great carrier to use for cheap flights around the US, or ‘Bare Fare’ as they have coined it.
For me this trip was very last minute, I had been wanting to go home during the pandemic to spend time with my family I don’t see often; however, with a pandemic it can be a double edged sword for all involved. As things were calming down and I was still working from home I decided to go for it and booked my flight 3 days prior to departure. Booking on Spirit is quite simple, and their fares appear on most 3rd party search engines making it easy to compare with other carriers on the same route. After checking a few sites Spirit was by far the cheapest carrier and had a convenient schedule for me. I booked directly on the Spirit website, and after many ads for add-ons and confirming I wouldn’t need a carry-on, seat selection, rental car, or hotel, my total came out to $107.09 roundtrip. I netted a total of 216 points at 2x points per dollar spent on travel with my Chase Sapphire Preferred. With Spirit it is crucial to do your check-in as fast as possible 24 hours prior to departure to get a good boarding zone and seat placement if you did not pay for such prior.
I want to start this ground experience the days prior to the flight. While I did make the choice to take this trip to go home, as the opportunity to spend a month+ at home isn’t common as adults, I don’t want to downplay the current global Pandemic we are living through, please thoroughly think about your necessity to travel right now before getting on a plane. It was a last minute booking but I had been self-isolating for over a week prior to booking, measuring my temperature, and got tested for COVID-19 the day before flying to make sure I wasn’t asymptomatic and spreading it - nothing prepares you for the displeasure of the nose swab. I also wore a jacket the whole time and long pants to limit direct contact with surfaces and to wash the moment I got home, it also matched the Spirit livery! However we urge all of our readers to please keep others in mind during this time and stay safe.
Like most airlines, check-in began 24 hours prior to departure online. With my confirmation number handy I breezed through the process confirming once again that I did not want to purchase bags or seats, and best of all was assigned a window seat. With my mobile boarding pass in hand I was ready for my first flight in months - you can read about Jeremy's full COVID Travel Experience too.
My flight was scheduled to depart O’hare International at 8:00am. I figured getting to the airport with a bit of extra time to clear security would be smart, thus I arrived 2 hours prior to a very deserted O’hare terminal 3. It was very surreal stepping into an airport after months of being in the thick of it. All the check in desks had large acrylic panels in front, staff was minimal and everyone seemed nervous to be less than a few feet away from each other. The security checkpoints all had distance markings and employees wore plenty of PPE, you now hold up your ID to them to be checked rather than hand it over. Once through document check the bag and scan part was pretty much the same, just socially distant. Overall security was a breeze as most people do not utilize the checkpoint at the furthest end of the terminal by the Spirit desks and I was through in a matter of minutes.
Everyone seemed to be in a good mood through the sea of different color masks as I walked to my gate with only one concession open, that being McDonalds. Perhaps the saddest sight was seeing a departure board with only 5 scheduled flights in a concourse that is normally bursting at the seams and hardly any planes on the ground.
Boarding of the packed gate area began around 7:40am as our plane had been sitting at the gate for a while now being cleaned. The Spirit gate agents did a good job of reminding people to keep their distance and follow the ground distance markings when boarding, also offering masks for $3 if you did not have one to board the flight as they are required. They began with those who required assistance, and followed it in order of their boarding groups, I was in Group 3 and was able to get on pretty rapidly and contactless, meaning no tap for good luck of the aircraft today!
Seat & Cabin
Spirit seats aren’t the best, they aren’t the most comfortable and the leg room isn’t life changing. But again I often find sub-$100 round trips on them so it is a small price to pay for a few hours. Spirit Economy seats offer 28” of pitch, 17.75” of width with no reclining option. Leg room can be snug as a 5’-10” guy but it wasn’t terrible for a domestic flight. I have flown them on longer routes to the west coast and while not the most comfortable it is doable.
Perhaps my biggest issue with Spirit’s cabin is the seat back. The hard convex shell seat back to gain a few inches of legroom, the tray table the size of an iPad mini, and the weirdest bungee cord literature pocket that barely holds things in, makes this one of the worst seatback designs I’ve ever seen. However they have listened and in 2019 announced their new seat design with far better appearance, full size adjustable tray table, a real literature pocket, and more - an upgrade that will really change things in my opinion.
Overall the plane felt clean - much like we also experienced on Southwest Airlines later June - and everyone was relatively careful to not touch too many things. I did bring my own hand sanitizer which I recommend as eventually you will touch something whether you like it or not. Do keep in mind that during the pandemic, Spirit is NOT leaving the middle seat open, so you WILL most likely be sitting closely next to someone, be prepared to be alright with this if you chose to fly during this time with select carriers - American, Spirit and United are among carriers not leaving seats open.
Food & Beverage
I do not have much to mention about the food onboard as Spirit’s bare fare does not include anything consumable (including water! So bring your own) with your ticket. However I have ordered from their menu before and it covers all the basics from soft drinks, spirits, beer, and snacks at shockingly a pretty average price for inflight services. Their most famous item is perhaps the Buzzball pre-mixed cocktails they offer at a pretty good price, I would recommend giving this unique item I haven’t seen in many places a try! They also offer cup ramen which is a fun choice in the air. I brought my classic flight treat; a bag of beef jerky, pairs well with a ginger ale if I do say so myself, however I refrained myself from eating during this flight as to limit contact with food and to keep my mask on the full flight.
Amenities & Service
Again, Spirit is a no frills bare service carrier, aside from a seat and a restroom, there wasn’t much else included or available. Spirit does not offer any form of in-flight entertainment, nor do they offer wi-fi, although they announced intentions to add wi-fi to their whole fleet by summer 2018, here we are in 2020 and none have it. So load up your phone with good music, games, and movies, and be prepared to hold it as per aforementioned tray table. I personally bring a good book and play a few games and the time flies - pun intended.
Service was friendly when I spoke to any of the attendants, they did instruct the way to wear your masks and when you can take it off (eating only) and how to dispose of them if you need to change it mid-flight. Overall there wasn’t much interaction but they were friendly anytime I approached.
Arrival into FLL varies on the route and wind direction, today we got the treat of flying down the Florida coast and getting glimpses at the Kennedy Space Center, Daytona Beach, and the Fort Lauderdale coast line before flying inland over the Everglades to align with FLL. On final approach you get views of the expansive sprawl of south Florida where I got to see my high school and many sites of my childhood below. Landing was fast and so was the taxiing to our gate. On the ground many JetBlue and Spirit aircraft were parked with engines covered due to the Pandemic happening outside that you almost forget about as you look out over the sky. Within minutes I was at the exit of an equally deserted FLL.
As I have said before, I like Spirit as an airline, they are nothing to write home about and you depend on yourself during the flight. But if you can bear what their fare includes, another intended pun, then it is not a bad carrier to fly at all. There’s a lot of stigma and dislike for Spirit out there; however, I find most of it comes from not knowing what to expect or what is included, but it's a great low cost option to getting out there and I wouldn’t tell anyone not to fly them. If it saves you money and gets you there safely then that's a win in my book. I will be flying them on the return leg in a few weeks and look forward to being in the sky again.
Wanna know how to fly and survive Ultra Low Cost Carriers? Be on the lookout for our tips and tricks guide coming your way soon to help you navigate your fares!