Dispirited Experiences: What makes Spirit so undesirable?

I’ve flown Spirit Airlines twice – once to Chicago O’Hare, once to Baltimore. Both times, I got on the outbound leg of my trip, flew to my destination, and had no complaints.

Unfortunately, the return legs of both trips proved to be much less pleasant.

On the trip back from Chicago, my flight was delayed by an hour. Coming back from Baltimore, it was 2 ½ hours. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you.

The Spirit Hallmarks

Spirit brands itself as an ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC). And in certain instances, Spirit’s prices are less than those of a number of carriers. However, I have found a number of times where American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, jetBlue, and United Airlines have beaten Spirit’s offering by some distance. As a result, I don’t really buy Spirit’s implicit M.O. of “the reason we provide (virtually) zero amenities is so we can deliver the cheapest fares.” They’ve even explained that they charge for water because putting water on the plane makes the plane weigh more, thus leading to the need for more fuel and increased fuel expenses. Given that a variety of airlines have started to charge for refreshments, I get it, but a glass of water is different than a can of soda – I don’t know of any other carrier that charges for the former.

Getting Carried Away

In an era where airlines have come under increased scrutiny for charging checked bag fees, Spirit has taken it one step further, as the carrier charges for carry-on bags. To an extent, I don’t mind this. I can’t tell you how much it bothers me to see oblivious people trying to stuff their over-sized carry-on into the overhead bin. At the same time, I think charging for carry-ons is a little excessive, and could perhaps be the beginning of an avalanche of ancillary fees.

Things Aren’t Always What they Seem

Ultimately, Spirit’s lack of amenities is done in the name of frugality – it certainly doesn’t intend to be malevolent. In fact, the carrier openly acknowledges its lack of amenities, telling passengers that a lack of frills is how the carrier is able to sustain its business model. However, I can’t say that I buy this, either. For example, jetBlue can afford to provide passengers with free refreshments, free seat selection, free Wi-Fi, and free DirecTV. I can’t say I comprehend why Spirit feels the need to do without TVs, Wi-Fi, or an adequately-sized tray table.

Of course, my sample size may of Spirit experiences be small. Moreover, I do not doubt there are passengers who fly Spirit without delays. However, Spirit’s no-frills rationale seems flawed, particularly considering the existence of jetBlue and Southwest Airlines. After all, these two low-cost carriers are the two highest-ranked U.S. carriers in the J.D. Power & Associates customer satisfaction rankings. Maybe if Spirit focused more on service, it would be able to rid itself its bad reputation.