If you’ve heard of Spirit Airlines, the odds are those things were on the negative end of the spectrum. Consumer Reports ranked Spirit as the worst airline in America earlier this year. The airline’s no-frills fares are often at the root of bad reviews, since everything from a carry-on bag to a bottle of water will cost you extra money.
After several years of hearing about Spirit Airline’s notorious reputation, I bit the bullet and decided to fly from New York to Texas on the “budget” flight.
Keep reading to see what it was really like on board a Spirit Airlines flight, from the good to the bad and everything in between.
The first thing to know about booking a Spirit Airlines flight is that the fare listed in third-party fare search engines like Google Flights or Kayak will be much lower than is realistic.
The price reflected on a third-party site will be the base fare. But Spirit Airlines advertises “unbundled” fares, which means that price tag you see only covers the flight itself and one personal item. They call this the “bare fare.”
You pay extra fees for a carry-on bag, a checked bag, and more.
Carry-on bags are $US37 each way. Spirit Airlines offers a “Thrills Combo” for $US77.49 each way, and that includes one carry-on, one checked bag, seat selection, priority boarding, and “flight flex” (which allows you to make changes to your trip once it’s booked for minimal extra fees).
I was flying to Dallas for a long weekend, so one personal item (my backpack) and a standard size wheeled carry-on bag was all I needed.
A brief search online will reveal just how controversial Spirit Airlines really is.
On TripAdvisor, Spirit averages 2.5 out of 5 for its ratings with over 8,000 total reviews. About 2,700 of those reviews rank it as “terrible” and many of the users say they will never fly with the company again.
The Yelp page for Spirit Airlines doesn’t paint a more pleasant picture.
“The Garbage of the Air, Spirit Airways,” a one star review from Alex H. says on Yelp. “If you ever want to know what it’s like to be in Section 8 Air Lifestyle, this is your airline. If you like being charged for everything, and I mean everything except for Air, this is your airline. If you want horrible customer service and terrible management and appeal, choose Spirit. They will screw your wallet every way they can, and will smile while they do it. Go f— yourself Spirit Airlines :).”
And several major outlets have consistently labelled it as the worst airline in America.
Out of 11 major airlines operating in the US, Spirit has ranked lowest on Consumer Reports’ 2018 list of best and worst airlines.
In 2017, headlines about Spirit Airlines delays causing customer feuds with police dominated the news cycle.
When pilots began striking against Spirit Airlines by turning down flight assignments as a part of a union effort to negotiate higher wages, over 300 Spirit flights were canceled in one week. This led to physical altercations at Florida’s Fort Lauderdale airport.
All this being said, I was prepared for issues but kept an open mind as I booked my flight and headed to the airport.
I checked in online the day before my flight and arrived at LaGuardia with my printed boarding pass in hand.
Spirit charges you a $US10 fee to have an employee print your boarding pass at the check-in counter, so it behooves you to check in online or at the kiosk.
This is especially easy if you’re only bringing carry-on items. If you’re checking a bag, you can still check-in online or at the kiosk and then drop your bags at the counter.
As with most airlines, Spirit has a handy bag-measuring station so you can make sure your carry-on items will fit.
I was slightly worried at the sight of this station. My wheeled carry-on suitcase seemed slightly larger than the space seen here. But I decided to take my chances, since I didn’t want to pay any additional fees.
Once through security, I made my way to the gate.
Since Spirit Airlines is rather new, the gates feel slightly cramped between other airlines. But the boarding was a piece of cake, and actually began early (a rarity in air travel) on my way to Texas.
Once on board, my worries about the overhead bin space were assuaged. The wheeler suitcase fit fine up top.
I eventually learned that Spirit puts you in a boarding group depending on how many items you’ve pre-purchased to bring on, along with other individual factors like seat location.
This likely minimizes the odds of overhead space filling up before you have a chance to board (which has happened to me on other airlines).
Unlike most of its competitors, Spirit’s seats don’t recline and have minimal cushion.
The seats were still reasonably comfortable, though certainly less luxurious. There’s also no in-flight entertainment options or Wi-Fi.
I’d recommend downloading some TV shows or movies onto a laptop, tablet, or your phone ahead of time, and bringing a neck pillow if you have trouble falling asleep on planes.
I had paid six dollars ahead of time to select the window seat on my flight.
Upon settling in, I was surprised to see such a small tray table in front of me. There was also no backseat pocket. Instead, stretchy cords held the safety information and on-flight menu.
Finding room for my feet and my backpack was a slight struggle.
I figured it wouldn’t be too bad for a flight that was just under four total hours.
Before I could truly get comfortable, a flight attendant asked if I wouldn’t mind moving to the seat in front of my original one.
The seat they moved me too (without explanation) was in the exit row. Once I assured them I would be comfortable helping with any emergency evacuation procedures, I was happy to stretch my legs out.
Once the flight took off, I perused the menu. I knew I needed to buy at least a water (since no beverages are free on Spirit and I had no food or drinks with me).
Three dollars will get you a soda, water, or juice. Two bucks buys you a coffee or tea. There are also small snacks like chips and muffins to choose from, and of course a selection of alcohol.
I fly at least twice a year, and always get ginger ale. So I opted for the “Share Pair” combo that came with a soda, water, and choice of snack.
For snacks, the combo comes with either a “Cafe Snack Box” or the cheese tray. I wanted a bit of variety for my on-flight “meal,” so I picked the snack box.
Since the seat in front of me was so far away, my tray table popped up from my armrest.
My drinks came first, and I was happy to see a full-sized can of soda with a standard size water bottle. Other airlines give you these drinks for free, but you typically have to ask to keep the full can (and the water bottles are usually tiny).
My snack pack arrived in a neat, small box.
At this point, I was a very happy camper. The boarding and seating process had been easy, and I was on-the-fly upgraded to get maximum leg room.
The snack box came with Skittles, Wheat Thins, cheese spread, salted almonds, and Milano cookies.
Everything came in what seemed like the smallest possible size, but it wound up being a perfect mix of sweet and savoury. I saved my Milano cookies, ate the rest, and spent the rest of my flight reading or napping.
My return journey to New York shook out about the same, with one major fail: The cheese plate.
On my flight back to New York, I slept for a couple hours and woke up starving. This time I had remembered to buy my own water bottle at the airport, so I decided to just buy the cheese plate this time around.
As the packaging revealed, this cheese plate was actually a selection of processed “pasteurised cheese foods.”
The package contained three “cheeses,” about six crackers, and a measly section of dried cranberries (with two itty bitty pieces of dried apple). The cheeses were all room temperature, creating a grainy and sweaty texture I didn’t care for at all.
After regretfully eating most of my warm “cheese” plate, it was soon wheels-down time.
Overall, most of my experience on Spirit Airlines was fine. Nothing super great, and only the cheese plate was something I would mark down as truly, truly bad.
However — I doubt I’ll be booking another Spirit Airlines flight again.
The cost difference didn’t seem that much cheaper after bags, seat selection, and on-board drink purchases. If the base fare was ever truly much lower (I’m talking at least $US100 less), I would book Spirit Airlines – but only for flights under four hours.
I’m fortunate enough to be financially capable of shelling out a bit more for an airline I prefer.
For longer journeys, that added comfort of reclining, padded headrests, and actual tasty cheese plates – not to mention the free in-flight movies and TV – is worth spending more.
For more airline coverage from INSIDER, read our guide on when to buy plane tickets if you’re trying to save money.
NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.