If you own a blog, you should be allowed to complain. But that doesn't mean you should.
In fact, I've already written (with hot blood!) the "hate" equivalent of a love sonnet to Spirit Airlines, but I won't share it, because I don't want to bitch.
Instead, let this post be a warning for future travelers: While Spirit Airlines might seem the heir-apparent for the North American budget travel throne, it isn't. And it never will be.
Take a cue from Ryanair: Europe's infamous ultra-low budget airline runs circles around competitors' fares on a regular basis. I've flown round-trip from Pisa to Barcelona and didn't spent more than dinner for two at a decent trattoria. Without a bottle of wine, no less. And while Ryanair is notorious for nickel-and-diming passengers (check-in fees, payment method penalties, bus fares to/from airports, etc.), chances are good you'll still get to your destination under budget and on time (granted, this is because they publish arrival times with built-in tarmac delays, but hey, whatever works).
Spirit Airlines, however, is none of these things. I had more separate negative experiences in one leg of a journey with Spirit Airlines than I've had with several years' worth of flights with American or Alaska Airlines. In fact, I'll go on record and say that Spirit Airlines was the worst flying experience I've ever had—and I've been strapped into the cargo bay of a Russian Mi-8 helicopter without an overcoat or earmuffs (which was actually a lot of fun, but damn it was cold). Also, I flew Northwest. The old Northwest.
If you're considering taking the plunge and flying with Spirit Airlines, consider these sobering (and current) statistics:
- it's the only airline in all of the Americas—that's an entire hemisphere of Planet Earth—with a two-star rating. (One-star ratings are for defunct, privately-owned DIY weld-n-rivet planes flown by guys who insist on being called "Skip.")
- you'll pay extravagant baggage fees (even for an overhead carry-on) as a result of murky booking stipulations
- there's only an 80% chance you'll arrive on time, and if you have a connecting flight, your layovers are either (a) nail-bitingly short or (b) should-I-go-into-town? long
- you won't get a refund on a canceled ticket, even if promised one by a gate or phone agent. Even if you're a dying vet.
- seat pitch on a Spirit Airlines-owned Airbus A320 is 28 inches. For even a pseudo-tall traveler like me, this is painfully uncomfortable for a 4.5-hour transcontinental flight. And an hourlong wait on the tarmac didn't help.
- Spirit is known for its so-ridiculous-it-can't-be-real itineraries: one recent query from Fort Lauderdale had short layovers in Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, and Las Vegas…all before arriving in Los Angeles (the strategy is that they can sell one seat multiple times as the carrier makes its way across the continent…great for those making short trips, but for a coast-to-coaster it's a real pain in the ass)
There are few things I won't do to maintain a budget, but this latest ordeal with Spirit has me second-guessing a policy I've kept for a long time.
The one thing that kept me balanced and sane during this whole ordeal?
It had to be remembering this video from Louis CK. At the end of the day, no matter how bad your experience, it's about maintaining a proper perspective. Like Louis, I'm convinced that everything really is amazing, and it's a shame so few of us are happy.
At the moment, I'm nursing my second cup of coffee at an outdoor café in San Jose, Costa Rica. The weather is pleasant, the neighborhood is quiet, and the people—as they are apt to be—have been exceptionally kind to this gringo perdido. I have a job that allows me to travel while I work, and I maintain this website simply because it's fun, and I want you to have the best travel experiences possible. If I can provide even a shred of inspiration through Sparkpunk for your own adventures, I'll tally a point in the "win" column.
So I can't complain much. The days are just too damn good, and the time is short.