Spirit Airlines, the Scum of the Skies: Just Ask Spirit Passengers

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: November 16, 2011 3:55 AM
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Nancy Smith

Even with the greedy insurance industry and the robber financial institutions and the lineup of fat Fortune 500 pharmaceutical giants, Spirit Airlines still makes my list of Top 10 Suckiest Companies in America.

The Miramar-based "discount carrier" signed a $6.7 billion agreement Tuesday to buy 45 A320neo planes and 30 A320 aircraft from Airbus. And all of a sudden it came flooding back just how bad these guys are, never mind that they're a Florida company.

That's right, Airbus is a German planemaker.

What, was Boeing, here in the good old U.S.A., so busy Spirit had to take its business to Europe?

And Spirit Chief Executive Officer Ben Baldanza announced the deal not in Florida, but at the Dubai Air Show, halfway around the world.

In case you're wondering how a carrier like Spirit -- offering delicious one-way fares as low as $9 -- can get any kind of return on a $6.7 billion investment, please, let me fill you in.

They do it because, come to find out, they aren't a no-frills carrier after all.

These are well and truly frills-'r'-us folks. They're like the infomercial pirates on TV who hawk a set of steak knives for $19.95, with a second set plus carving knife for free, just call this number now -- but by the time you hang up the phone, you've shelled out nearly $100 in postage and handling.

With Spirit, once you get past the cheap tickets, you're going to pony up luxury-style for a jaw-dropping array of goods and services, everything except your oxygen mask and a trip down the aisle to the lavatory.

Here's what you'll be paying for as a passenger on Spirit:

  • Optional annual membership of $59.95 in the airline's $9 Fare Club, if you want access to the cheapest fares.
  • Would you like an assigned seat? Figure to part with $8 to $20 (even if you want to reserve a middle seat).
  • Want to put that carry-on in an overhead bin? That'll be $45 one-way.
  • How about a glass of water? Yes, water. It's $3 a pop -- a dollar more than a cup of coffee.
  • On Nov. 8, your domestic "passenger usage fee" will increase from $8.99 each way to $16.99.
  • In January, look to fork over $5 for each boarding pass a ticket agent prints.

Oh, yes, and this just in -- announced Tuesday, same day as the Airbus deal: Passengers on Spirit Airlines Inc. will pay nearly $34 in fees to buy their tickets online. To avoid this one, they'll have to do their buying at the airport ticket counter, well in advance of the flight, to make sure the plane won't be full.

"It's one of the sneakiest fees in the industry," says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog. He notes that Spirit lists the generic-sounding "passenger usage fee" (mentioned above) along with the government-imposed taxes and fees. "It's very disingenuous. It does look like some unavoidable fee."

Spirit has all kinds of former passengers out there, blogging and tweeting their unhappiness. Check out, for example, the Spirit Airlines Sucks twitter list. 

If you think the low fares still make a Spirit flight a good deal, despite the a la carte menu of service charges, talk to Anne Banas, executive editor of the website SmarterTravel. She told ABC News last year that the fees quickly erode Spirit's claims of having the lowest fares.

"The reality, aside from those few passengers who are willing to pack exceptionally light, is that Spirit's fares are often not that great when you add everything up," Banas said. "Plus, you have to read the fine print in the advertising. For example, some of Spirit's cheapest advertised fares don't include the cost of fuel, which can add on anywhere between about $11 and $76, depending on mileage flown."

SmarterTravel compared prices for flights from Boston to Cancun with one checked bag and one carry-on. Spirit had the lowest advertised fare, but the fees quickly added up. In the end, Spirit was $435.17, JetBlue $426.10 and Delta $309.10.

Let's not forget legroom. If you like shoehorning your size 12 foot into a size 10 Oxford, you'll find Spirit plenty roomy.

Better yet, compare JetBlue, which offers 34 to 38 inches of legroom to Spirit's 28 inches. Now you see how Spirit plans to pay $6.7 billion for that new Airbus order. Wedging passengers in like sardines in a tin can gives Spirit 178 seats on its planes, 28 more than JetBlue.

Actually, passengers who think they have no legroom traveling Spirit now, wait till they tuck themselves into a seat in one of the carrier's new Airbuses. The A320neo, due out in 2015, offers new engine options and other features designed to cut noise and use 15 percent less fuel than older models Airbus models. But the body of an A320neo is exceptionally narrow, and the seats won't recline at all.

Can you blame Gary Leff, who runs the popular frequent flier blog View From the Wing for saying of Spirit, "This is the airline that's famous for hating their customers"?

Easily one of the suckiest consumer nightmares in America.


This is an opinion column: Reach Nancy Smith at or at (850) 727-0859.

Comments (4)

6:13AM NOV 20TH 2011
Of all the customer unfriendly things Spirit does, you're complaining about the fact they're buying Airbus equipment? So what if it was announced at the Dubai airshow? Announcements of major orders routinely occur at Dubai, London and Paris airshows whether it's Boeing or Airbus.

So do you only fly Southwest then? Or on other airlines, do you specifically book trips on routes operated by Boeing and not Airbus equipment? Keep in mind the majority of people wouldn't know an Airbus from a Boeing manufactured aircraft.

Jingoism is alive and well, quite obviously.
Kathryn Creedy
11:13AM NOV 16TH 2011
The problem with knee-jerk condemnations of foreign purchases is the fact they miss one important factor. Most of the really important parts are made right here in the USofA. The engines are US by GE and Pratt & Whitney. The avionics -- all the tech that makes up a cockpit -- is made by Phoenix-based Honeywell and Cedar Rapids-based Rockwell Collins. Today, aircraft manufacturers are largely assemblers. They buy their components engines, avionics, landing gear, aircraft systems from around the world, have it shipped to their manufacturing plant in wherever and put it together. But the US is a HUGE supplier of all these items and still leads the world. So condemning foreign manufacturers really equates to condemning US jobs at companies that supply these manufacturers parts, systems and engines.

And this has nothing to do with whether or not you like Spirit. Airbus products are found at United, American, JetBlue, just as boeing products are found around the world in Africa, Middle East, Asia.

The fact is aviation, as with many other industries, is a global industry, taking advantage of the global economy for the good of the US economy.

Part of an aircraft acquisition is obviously the deal but the vast majority is how a plane fits into a given network. Sometimes BO is better and sometimes AB. It all depends on the airline. Both United and American split their major aircraft purchases between the two because neither company could meet all their needs.

Just thought you should know. I do believe that aviation companies are a net exporter of aviation products to producers and airlines around the world. So the issue is a lot more complicated than just buy American.
Diana Neira
9:21AM NOV 16TH 2011
The annual membership inteh $9 FAre Club is now $59.95.
Nancy Smith
9:35AM NOV 16TH 2011
Thank you, Diana. You're right and I've made the change.

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