Spirit Airlines. A name so soothing and sweet that if one had no prior knowledge about it, one might assume that it was a fine experience in the sky. Alas, it is not possible for one to be so tragically, terrifically, terribly, undoubtedly, horribly wrong.
My first, and last Spirit experience was a roundtrip flight from Oakland to Cleveland. The destinations should be omens to the flight experience. Oh. I didn’t mention, it was an early morning flight through Las Vegas. I booked the ticket through Priceline, refused to pay for luggage, or a carry-on. Come on guys. $35 for a carry-on? That’s just criminal. I packed my “personal item” as much as I could and left.
I got to Oakland using the BART around midnight, because the BART likes to close early on weekdays. I went through security, was patted down very thoroughly and went into the terminal thinking that I could spend my five-and-a-half hours until the flight in peace. But little did I know that the terminal closed around 1. No one had thought to mention this to me as I passed security. But oh well. Upon being thrown out by the janitor, I settled in to wait out the night in the luxury lounge known as the arrivals meeting area. It even had chairs in it. Glorious. Four hours, and three and a half episodes of The Man in the High Castle later, (Boingo didn’t throw me out after 30 minutes for some reason), I got up to go back through security. I was thoroughly patted down again, but this time, the agents were not so nice about it.
Finally into the terminal, I made my way to the gate. It was surprisingly full considering that security had only been open for ten minutes. That was only a sign of the horrors to come. We boarded, slowly, called by our assigned group numbers to crowd into the cabin. I would show you a picture I took of the cabin, but I couldn’t get my arms up because the people behind me were pushing so hard. It looked like a long expanse of blue holding cells, the exceptions being the “big seats up front”. All looked enviously at those city-slickers who could afford the up-charge for such prominence on this fine airline.
I found my seat at the far back of the plane. Thankfully, it was a window seat. I wriggled around, trying every possible position to see if any one of modest comfort existed. I gave up and concluded that there are none. I looked at the tray table, usually a wide expanse of plastic and was flummoxed. It was metallic, and looked suspiciously like the new iPad Mini.
We waited for boarding to finish. It finally did, but only after 30 minutes. Takeoff was a bit bumpy, but otherwise fine. After coming to cruising altitude, the stewardesses emerged. And began to sell. They started off with food. “Does anyone want some gourmet Spirit chicken fingers?” Umm. No. That sounds horrible. Drinks too. All overpriced. After they finished that up, the credit card sell began. 15,000 points if only you write your information down on this card, regardless if you get approved. It went on and on. Never before had I wanted to sign up for a card less. Sleep was my priority, but credit was theirs. I, and all the other passengers lost that battle as we descended into Las Vegas.
The next leg was almost precisely the same. Shoving, pushing, light punching to board. Cramming into a seat that I think they stole out of a race-car. Actually, on second thought, I think Spirit bought all the seconds from a failed run of Recaro race seats. The stewardesses again sold and sold, a few retirees went for the points offer. Everyone else stared into the back of the seat in front of them, wondering where the padding was, and what had they done to deserve this. Eventually, we got to Cleveland, but we weren’t Believelanders anymore. The flight had sucked out all of our spirits, and left a cold, sad, begrudging longing for United in our hearts.
The flight back to Oakland began with an evening flight from Cleveland back to Las Vegas. The people going to Vegas were much merrier than those returning, most likely because they still had their money. I made some conversation from my cramped seat, and settled in for the ride. Soon after, some drama began to unfold. Eager for some kind of entertainment, the whole plane looked to the front, near the bathroom. A man, quite intoxicated, was trying to get past a stewardess to use the restroom. She then yelled at him, saying something about a pilot needing to use the restroom, and that passengers were not permitted to congregate at the front of the cabin.
He came back to his seat across the aisle from me, grumbling. He tried again about twenty minutes later. He was told the same thing and was ordered back to his seat. This time he tried the aft restroom, but it was now out-of-order. (It hadn’t been at the start of the flight) Somewhere over the Mississippi he began to get enraged and started yelling at the flight crew that he would “piss in this seat” if they didn’t let him up front. Naturally, this didn’t go well, and they prevented him from using the bathroom during the entire flight. As we were landing, we heard the head stewardess call the McCarran police, reporting an unruly passenger. At the gate, no one was allowed to disembark until the police took said drunk man off the plane. After that, everyone pushed and shoved to get out. I saw the drunk standing happily next to the gate to meet his friends when I exited. It turns out the police were on his side of the argument. The lesson one should take away is this: If you want to be first off a Spirit flight into Vegas, just try to use the bathroom as often and angrily as possible.
After all this, I was less than excited to continue on to Oakland, but I had to. I found my seat, but it was occupied by large shopping bags. I politely asked the woman sitting in the middle seat, and she did so, albeit, angrily. I sat down into the plastic bucket of seat, and waited for takeoff. Another woman sat down in the aisle seat. They began to complain about the seat and were talking about ways to change. Suddenly, the woman in the middle seat began shouting to the stewardess that she was having a panic attack. “I need an aisle seat!” she yelled. They suggested she swap with her friend, but then her friend said that she too would have an emotional breakdown if she had the misfortune of sitting there. I suspect that they wanted more room for their bags of liquor than any actual malady. The attendants told them no, politely. But they continued to yell for a seat change. Eventually, after the taxi had begun, they changed seats without permission and laid down across two entire rows. The flight attendants came back and told them to put their seat belts on or we couldn’t take off.
They did so, but only with scowls. We took off, and they immediately went back to laying down across the rows. Oh, what manners up here in paradise. I spent the rest of the flight ignoring the numerous sales pitches and listening to music.
Conclusion: After landing and the pushing and shoving of disembarking, I made my way back on the BART. Spirit’s product is truly revolutionary. People pay to be miserable. The seats are terrible, the service is terrible, the pricing really isn’t all that cheap after the myriad fees, and the flight attendants just try to sell you more stuff for the whole flight. And so, after this experience, perhaps only exceeded in their terror and misery by an Air Koryo flight, I have to wonder. Is Spirit really the worst airline, or does it merely bring out the worst in us?
Disclaimer: Spirit Airlines was in no way involved in this review. I was not compensated for my time, flight, or emotional distress in any way.