I’ve Actually Flown Spirit — Here’s What Ben Can Expect

Probably like many of you, I kind of did a double-take yesterday when I read that Ben had booked a ticket on Spirit. I quickly dashed off a message to him to make sure he was feeling okay, and that his OMAAT account hadn’t been hacked. But he assured me that he had indeed booked the ticket and was excited at the opportunity.

Then I remembered that I hadn’t yet shared my experience flying Spirit from Detroit to Boston earlier this summer. So to help him know what to expect — and perhaps some of you — here is my mini-review of the flight.

Maybe you’ll learn from my mistakes….

Choosing to fly Spirit

Unlike Ben, I don’t get terribly excited about flying new airlines. Having flown a million miles on United and having been a Premier 1K for about a decade, I’m quite happy to stick with the devil I know rather than the one I don’t. But on this day and this route, Spirit was a fraction of the cost of United, flew non-stop, and had a decent departure time. Plus, I already had travel booked to re-qualify 1K for the year.

I paid $50 for my ticket, which is incredible. JetBlue was more than double that, as was Delta, both of which fly non-stop. United wanted even more, with a connection in Newark.

I figured even with having to pay to bring my bag, I’d come out ahead.

Booking my Spirit ticket

I’ve booked tickets on Spirit for my mother-in-law before (no joke) so I knew that there were about a dozen screens to get click through during the booking process. Spirit, of course, charges for everything and the kitchen sink.

In fact, they actually charge more for carry-ons then checked bags. I guess that discourages people from bringing big bags onboard, which theoretically speeds boarding.


Possibly the most complicated table of bag fees you’ll ever see

I knew I’d have my roller bag along for the trip, but decided not to pay for it when I booked the ticket, thinking there was a small chance I might throw the ticket away. That is, I decided I’d rather pay $10 more later rather than run the risk of losing the value of my ticket and the bag fee.

So I paid $42 during the check-in process, rather than $32 if I had paid for the bag during booking. That’s right, checking a bag nearly doubled the cost of my trip.

Anyway, I also elected not to pay for a seat assignment, instead hoping I could try the same trick I used with my Frontier flight to get a good seat.

Checking-in for my Spirit flight

For my Frontier flight, I checked-in at the airport literally an hour before departure. But that’s not a good idea with Spirit, since they charge you to print a boarding pass and they don’t believe in mobile boarding passes.

So I checked-in before leaving for the airport, which was about 2.5 hours before departure. I was assigned a window seat in row 8, which seemed pretty darn good. I’m horrible about losing boarding passes, so I made sure to stuff it carefully into my pocket, lest I end up paying to print a new one.

Arriving at Detroit Metro Airport North Terminal

Spirit uses the North Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport, which I’m very familiar with since United — and just about everyone else not named, or in bed with, Delta — does as well. It’s a very convenient terminal to fly out of since there aren’t that many gates. In fact, flying out of the North Terminal sort of makes you forget that you are at a major airport.

Because of that, I rarely arrive more than an hour early when flying United, unless I’m aiming to grab a snack at the Lufthansa Senator lounge. But I figured since I was flying Spirit, I should allow some extra time, so I arrived at 6 AM for my 7:30 AM flight.

Waiting in line to check a bag

The first thing I noticed was a line. A massive line. It was overflowing the corral at the Spirit counter and winding halfway to the other end of the terminal.


Spirit line at Detroit Metro

My heart sank as I realized that I had decided to save a few bucks by electing to check my bag instead of carrying it on. I actually had a thought that perhaps I could pay the difference and just take my roller to the gate. But I didn’t know who to ask, and kind of doubted there was a means for dealing with such a request. So I started looking for the end of the line.

If you squint, you can see the Spirit counter way down at the end.


The Spirit counter is way down there

The good news was that the people waiting were mostly taking things in stride. And I felt a bit better when I discovered that the people around me were mostly on flights leaving before mine.

But the line barely budged. And it was completely blocking access to the United counter, as well as a few others.

At intervals, a United agent would walk around making sure that their customers weren’t in the Spirit line by mistake. He’d ask if anyone was flying United, and more than a few people muttered, I wish! You sure don’t hear that everyday!

I eventually made it up to the corrals.


Finally in the Spirit corral

But by this point the Spirit agents were starting to make announcements for people on flights departing prior to mine to come forward. They called for Houston. And Denver. Meanwhile, those of us going to Boston just looked at each other — we had actually arrived sufficiently early, but now that didn’t matter as they just took people in the order of their departure time.

Meanwhile, a second spur of the main Spirit line had formed going toward security at the near end of the terminal. Apparently an airport employee had told some people to wrap the line in that direction so as not to block the other airlines’ counters. But of course, not everyone had listened, and why should they? So a minor skirmish nearly broke out as the two lines argued over which was the legitimate Spirit line.

I can’t make this stuff up.

Fortunately, I was already in the corral, so it didn’t affect me. Instead, I got out my phone hoping to record the next viral video of passengers behaving poorly. I guess they managed to sort it out, because fisticuffs did not ensue. In fact, I don’t think the line much mattered anymore since the agents had just started helping people based on their departure time anyway.

I finally checked my bag at 7 AM, having waited in line for exactly an hour. I now had about 15 minutes to get through security and to the gate.

Arriving at the gate

Although I’m sure I had entered my Known Traveler Number on the reservation, my boarding pass didn’t show TSA PreCheck. Crap.

It turns out that there are ways to use PreCheck even when the airline you’re flying that day doesn’t put your number on the boarding pass.

As luck would have it, the only PreCheck lane that morning was at the far end of the terminal, back where I had started waiting in line. Fortunately it was pretty empty, probably because the only people trying to get through security were Spirit passengers, and I doubt many of them have PreCheck.

I then headed to the gate, which was most of the way back in the direction I had just come from.


Spirit gate at Detroit Metro airport

By the time I arrived, there was no one at the gate other than the agent. Well, duh, that’s because half of them were probably still trying to check their bag, or get through security. 


Spirit gate at Detroit Metro airport

I had a lightly filled backpack as my personal item, which would have fit easily in the sizer. But nobody questioned it.


Spirit bag sizer

Boarding my Spirit flight

I headed down the jet bridge at around 7:15 AM.


Spirit plane at Detroit Metro

I walked by the big front seats which looked pretty nice. But you’ll have to wait for Ben to tell you about them.


Spirit big front seat

I found my regular economy seat and settled in.


Spirit seating

For the moment, I had a row to myself.


Spirit seating


Spirit seating

At about 7:25AM, the nice couple who were in front of me in line —  we had become quite good friends over the past hour — boarded. So apparently I could have gone through regular security and still made it.

The seat itself was nice enough and the pitch wasn’t really too unreasonable. I’m 6 feet tall and found it snug, but livable.


Spirit seat

Even better, the seat actually reclined and there was a real tray table, features you won’t find on a Frontier plane.


Spirit tray table

Flying to Boston

We ended up departing a few minutes late, but nothing too out of the ordinary. I’m not sure if that’s because we were waiting for some passengers or not. The middle seat next to me stayed empty, so I’d say my late check-in strategy again worked pretty well.

Spirit charges for food and drink. I took some pictures of the menu just so Ben could salivate over the BuzzBalls.


Spirit menu


Spirit menu

The flight attendants were nice enough. In fact, the flight itself was actually pretty uneventful. Having woken up at 5 AM, I dozed for most of it.

We arrived in Boston pretty much on-time.


View from in front of the wing

Spirit has a couple gates in Boston, and frankly they are a cluster.

The line of people waiting to board our plane was in the way of the deplaning passengers, so it took some careful navigating to get through. And at first glance, it seems that Spirit is confined to their own little area, disconnected from everyone else. But in fact, if you turn left, there is a connector that will take you to American and United gates.


Connector in Boston 

I headed to the American Admirals Club to re-hydrate.

Bottom Line

My Spirit experience was definitely interesting.

The check-in process was absolute chaos. I know I’m probably spoiled by elite status, but I just don’t see how it should take an hour to check a bag. It seems like they could invest in some technology that would let people tag their own bags, or something.

If I was to do it over, I would have just paid the $10 premium to bring my roller on the plane, instead of checking it. Then I could have avoided the big line. That’s probably my biggest tip when flying Spirit, at least when departing from one of their busy hubs.

The flight, on the other hand, was perfectly fine. In fact, once we were in the air, I sort of forgot that I was flying Spirit.

Will I fly them again? Perhaps, but only if they are significantly cheaper than United. Or anyone else.

Have you flown Spirit? How was it?

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Comments

  1. I do Spirit only between FLL – MCO and that’s it and even that they don’t get right at all. With SWA now doing the FLL to MCO haul I have been flying them and they have given me zero issues. Spirit at FLL is a circus at best with very inexperienced travelers trying to give save $ as best as possible.

  2. Once. That was all it took.

    And I have a pretty high threshold for BS, being a regular customer of F9 and having grown up flying such stalwart brands as Peoplexpress, Jet America, Skytrain, Martinair, and DAN Air.

    I certainly didn’t have any issues with the hard product. It’s a seat, on a plane, in the air.

    My biggest issue is with the (lack of sufficient) ground staff and, worst of all, the other passengers, who seem to overwhelmingly consist of never-evers, cheapskates, and twenty-somethings.

  3. Love the North Terminal at DTW (AA EP), easy and cheap to park and get through security. Flew Spirit once (not my idea) to MYR and never again. If traveling with others (as I was), need to pay for seats to sit together. Ended up paying just as much as it would have been on US Airways.

  4. Travis can you expand on the “It turns out that there are ways to use PreCheck even when the airline you’re flying that day doesn’t put your number on the boarding pass.” I didn’t follow. The linked article just talks about using an underused security area. Is it somehow possible to go through a PreCheck lane if your boarding pass doesn’t show PreCheck?

  5. Thank you for this review, Travis! It was an interesting read.

    I think I would only fly Spirit on a short hop if the price (carry-on included) was significantly lower than the competition.

  6. Similar to Travis, took Spirit once on a one-way for $100 DCA-FLL. Was a short trip so able to fit everything in a personal item and avoid any baggage fees. Was also not a necessary trip, so I wouldn’t have been horribly inconvenienced with a delay or cancellation. One issue with Spirit is that they run a lot of routes with only 3-4 flights a week, so if there is a cancellation you are completely out of luck as the don’t interline and might not have another flight for a few days, and of course that might be full.

    In short- Spirit makes sense if you are flying by yourself, is significantly cheaper than other alternatives, and for a flight that isn’t a “must travel”.

  7. Spirit is almost impossible to beat price wise if you buy your ticket at the airport (ahead of time) and carry a backpack. You save 35 bucks or so round trip just by buying the tickets at the airport. I have saved so much money doing it this way especially with a family of 5.

  8. Spirit is terrible. Ryan air row 2 all 3 seats for my family is great. Issue on one flight, other 7 were fine. That said if I can do fly british constantly since one world sapphire saves 45 minutes or more at immigration.

  9. I tried NK once, mostly as a gimmick to see if I could do it without paying any fees. DFW-TPA, for $34. No bags, just a small backpack for a day trip. It wasn’t that bad, really. I didn’t pay for seat selection, but still got assigned a window. We were annoyingly delayed for about half an hour without any communication, and Spirit flyers seem to have more inexperience than most with dealing with the TSA, but otherwise, the whole experience was unmemorable. Which is the way it should be, I guess.

  10. I think Spirit wouldn’t be that bad if you don’t get easily frazzled from chaos, if you’re okay knowing that the flight has a good chance of being delayed, and flight time is less than 2-3 hours.

    I personally would have felt too frazzled being stuck in the check-in line for an hour since I’ve never had to wait more than 5-10 minutes at ANY airport counter. But then again… it’s been more than a few years since I had to check a bag since I abide by my carry-on-only rule when I travel.. even when traveling for a few weeks in Europe or Asia. 😉

  11. If you’re only allowed a personal item…it does not have to go under the seat in front of you. Save that area to stretch out.

  12. Well he flew them yesterday per his Instagram stories, so it shouldn’t be too long before he posts his trip report.

  13. You guys all sound like the airline equivalent of people from NY and LA speculating with horror about what life is like in middle America. It’s really not that big a deal

  14. Having flown Spirit a few times I’ve never run into the situation you mentioned with the lines. Weird. I’ve flown Spirit out of Detroit and breezed right through. Spirit in Houston there was 1 family in front of me at check in.
    The rule of thumb on Spirit is always pick the big front seat and then enjoy. Even if the plane is packed with a bunch of amateurs it will be OK up front.

  15. DaninMCI — This was a Monday morning in mid-June. I did wonder if it was the start of vacation season or something. But agree, I’ve flown United out of Detroit a lot and never remember seeing the Spirit lines anything like this.

  16. I’m pretty sure the PreCheck thing being (poorly) alluded to is showing one’s Global Entry card. It seems to be totally unofficial, but apparently at some checkpoints this will get you PreCheck access without a checkmark on your boarding pass, especially when the airline you’re flying doesn’t participate in PreCheck (although Spirit does, which is odd).

    As for the linked article to LAX, I think what is (again, poorly) being pointed out is that the TBIT “hidden” connecting flights checkpoint doesn’t have a dedicated PreCheck line (as most [all?] airlines in TBIT don’t support precheck). But at checkpoints without dedicated PreCheck lines, you can get “precheck light”, which means your body gets Precheck treatment (metal detector, shoes on), but your bag gets regular treatment (laptops and liquids out) since it is co-mingled with other non pre-check bags on a single belt.

  17. Ideally, you don’t want to bring any bags. Just live with the small backpack, it’s good enough for a 4 or so day trip. Then there’s no checking counter and no fees. Also, they say they won’t seat people together but they really do. Overall, it’s a hassle-free experience if you just plan ahead and understand the rules.

  18. I am flying Spirit 4 times in September, during a trip from England. These type of no frill airlines are quite common here. After flying Ryan Air it will take a lot for me to rate it bad. Paying for carry on is new for me and even more weird that it cost more than hold luggage. Thanks for the insight, will make sure we arrive early and wish me luck…

  19. it’s not bad at all you just don’t know that your doing you can print your ticket at the machine for free and your can let them give you a random seat for free I got a bag 18/16/8 that I carry for free if not I pay for a bag its very simple and they explain everything with the bare fare pretty much all airlines charge for bags except southwest but there so high your paying for it I fly spirit all the time and as long as I can get a cheap flight I’m flying them

  20. I flew them once from SFO to ORD, I paid for the big seat up front and checked a bag. It ended up being 225 one way which for slightly more I could have paid for domestic first class on something else. Definitely a low rent airline and one I won’t ever experience again but it was fine. Though I suppose any airline is fine after a dozen vodka sodas.

  21. I luv Spirit! Read the rules and abide by them!! Check in on-line & get your ticket, be at your gate on time. I never check a bag. I fly out of Myrtle Beach.
    You get what you pay for. I’m not there to make a best friend…or need ego stroking…only want to get from Point A to B….cheap. I have saved thousands of dollars on Spirit. It’s easy if you read the not so fine print!

  22. FYI you can check in and print a boarding pass for free at the airport kiosk. They only charge you if you need to talk to an agent for check in and boarding pass.

  23. Caught the Spirit back in 2006, when I was fresh out of college. Flew LAX – DTW – LGA roundtrip. This was when they were still using the old, now demolished terminal. Other than the old terminal at DTW, thy were relatively uneventful flights, but this was before they were focused on becoming an ULCC.

  24. I have flown Spirit a few times and have never had an issue. Regularly take them to Vegas and just flew ORD to San Diego and then LAX back to ORD. You just need to know what you’re getting into. Play by their rules and it’s all good. We regularly upgrade to the big front seat or an exit row and it provides for a comfortable flight. The planes are new and the FA’s are friendly. Last Sunday we were running late for our ORD to San Diego flight. Literally parked the car at 8:30 in long term parking and was on the plane in my seat by 9:15. And we had to check bags. If the price is good and I can score a big front seat. I would fly them anytime.

  25. If I had a choice between Spirit at $50 (+++), or JetBlue/Delta at $100+, I’d pick JetBlue or Delta in a heartbeat (even though I detest Delta’s hubris). Travis, you are a glutton for punishment. (I might consider Spirit if I had a family of 7, and could manage with one carry-on each….HAH!!)

    Now that you’ve reviewed an LCC that pretends to be an airline, when can we expect to have you review a real former LCC – Southwest? (Did you know that Ben actually did a review of a Southwest flight several years ago?? Yes, he even took pictures of the plastic drink cup and the peanuts bag.)

  26. I know this blog is for us common folk to see what the luxurious feels like but I do wish as a challenge that Ben or one other OMAAT writer try taking budget carriers in Asia and in Europe just to give people comparisons. Like Air Asia, Jetstar, Ryan air etc.

  27. UAphil — well, I probably should have clarified that the other options at $100 were in the evening, and I wanted a morning flight if possible, but not too early like the 6AM JetBlue flight. So for the reasonable morning departures, Spirit was much much cheaper, even with the bag.

    But hey, at least I did save some mone, unlike Ben lol….

  28. Bill — I’ve actually flown AirAsia a few times and Norwegian intra-Europe. I’m also hoping to finish up my Frontier review from this past spring.

    I even flew SkyBus back in the day. THAT was far crazier than anything I’ve seen from Spirit.

  29. I flew Spirit once, round trip from NY to Detroit. I had low expectations, figuring it to be a bare bones, no frills experience. I didn’t check any bags, preferring to carry on a small backpack that fit under the seat in front of me, and brought my own munchies with me. The check-in process was ok, the flight attendants were decent, the economy seating was typical for smaller aircraft (I’m 6’2″), and the flight itself was just fine.
    I have been on many China and India domestic flights, as well as many puddle-jumper propeller aircraft stateside, and have a pretty good idea of what scary flying and poor service can be.
    Spirit? Bare bones, no frills. Set your expectations low and you won’t be disappointed.

  30. Flew Spirit for the first time a few wks ago..I agree,read the rules and alls good,but i read and bought 18×14×8 AS INSTRUCTED…they tried to tell me they measure from wheel to handle..my bag fit in carrier..I argued and won..no line at LAX or Cleveland..but Lax rude counter people..I didnt see big difference in legroom from Southwest..4 hr non stop and returned an hr early…The way to look at Spirit is lime a bus ride only faster..because they agreed middle seat was not comfy..person with lap tray with shamrock on it got a free trip… I read the bio on Spirit owner..he basically said people hate Spirit but they come back anyway…I did send him a letter with my complaints and got a reply to notify them of my next trip and i would be assigned a seat near the front..aisle or window..also got a survey if im happy..Dont know..i only have lip service so far
    ..

  31. Why do you say “literally” ???
    Literally an hour before your flight is different than an hour before your flight?

    I guess it’s today’s overused goofy word …. people used to say everything was awesome until ‘literally’ literally replaced it
    😉

  32. Flying Spirit *out* of Boston is a nightmare. I’ll have to check out the connector to AA and UA that you mention, but as it was, our food choices were horrible and the lines for the bathroom (especially women’s, of course) incredibly long. It certainly seemed like we were in a tiny section all to ourselves. The flight itself was okay, going to BWI, where Spirit had a perfectly normal gate.

    I don’t plan on flying Spirit again, at least as long as I live in Boston.

  33. Travis – thanks for the clarification. Given the timings, even I might have considered Spirit….for about 2 seconds, then booked a connecting flight on a real airline, or bit the bullet and taken the 6AM Jetblue flight, or flown the evening before.

  34. Travis, I would just say you are lucky man that your flight arrived on time. I have flown Spirit Airlines 3 times. Chicago to Las Vegas, Las Vegas to San Diego and San Diego to LAX. All flights were booked by my agent instead of American Airlines as my original tickets were what you call VUSA tickets from BA.

    My flight avg delay was 3 hours and I assume you can never miss Spirit AIrlines flight. Ofcourse, I would never fly with them again.

  35. I have heard alot of negative things about flying Spirit and the entire process. But I on the other hand have had nothing but good experiences with Spirit Airlines. I fly Spirit regularly from Atlantic City to Tampa. Very simple on-line ticket purchasing, easy to select the things I need like bags and seats and printing boarding passes 24 hours before. If you’re savy enough and have some flexibility when to fly, you can get some unbelievable deals. I usually fly round trip with my wife for a little over $200. That is with bags and picking seats. It pays to become a $9 club member, even if you fly only twice. I have even been upgraded to first class on a flight I paid $23 for from Tampa to AC. My views of Spirit Airlines might be a bit bias because the Atlantic City and Tampa Airports are very well equipped and less crowded than most places and super easy to get around and park at which also helps. Oh and I never had more than a few minutes delay with any flight. Don’t even get me started about Newark Airport and the horrors I recently had with United. An airline I will forever stay clear of but that is a story for another day. My blood pressure just rose recalling my experience with United. Actually still fighting with them for now 2 years about a few overcharges they completely screwed up. Speaking with about 6 supervisors it is still unresolved. I said don’t get me started!!! Well back to Spirit, flying again in two weeks. Now a frequent Spirit flyer with an apartment in Tampa I’ll be traveling every month or two and looking forward to it. Sorry all you Spirit haters but that leaves more room for me.

  36. “You guys all sound like the airline equivalent of people from NY and LA speculating with horror about what life is like in middle America. It’s really not that big a deal”

    I agree with @James K. People positioned in other parts of the world that fly the ME3 or Asian carriers more often might look at the US3 with the same type of disgust. While everyone here feels perfectly fine with their snack towers of sadness, 50+ upgrade lists and flight attendants that will throw you off a plane if you look at them the wrong way. The negative hype is ridiculous. Open yourself up to seeing the cost-benefit analysis as opposed to being so consumed in the negativity.

  37. What do you mean that when you say Spirit’s Boston gates are a cluster? They are in a cluster? Is it unusual for an airline’s gates to be clustered together? Did you expect them to be spread out throughout the airport?

  38. flew them from DCA once and will never again. Horrific customer service trying to get my golf bag checked while in a long line at counter. When I got to counter the agent states I missed the deadline by 5 minutes. I told him, but I was in your line and you are the only representative to check us in. Refused to budge on his policy. Gave us his boss’ number, who never returned my call. Had to miss the flight and rebook the next day.

  39. You must’ve blown it on Pre Check, Travis.

    We flew DFW-BWI last month and, since Spirit has (in fact) jointed Pre Check, our BPs were appropriately marked.

    Your commenters are off on seating. We’ve never paid for seats and have always been seated together for free. At the back of the bus, though. (We’ve always checked in close to the 24-hour mark.)

  40. Several years ago I flew Spirit. Check in both ways was chaotic. I paid baggage fee when I booked and it printed on the ticket, however, on the return check in they wanted to charge baggage fee again. Even though I could confirm purchase with my ticket and separate receipt, they would not check me in until I paid a second time. I would not fly with them again.

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