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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Spirit Airlines: The Art of "Fee-Mongering"

Scammed, swindled, schemed, stung...snookered, shafted, snowed, slighted, spoofed...suckered...shell-gamed, and slick-willyed; that's how we felt after flying Spirit Airlines. 

Cruel and Unusual Punishment
This flier is left wondering how an airline, or any business for that matter, can endure with so desperate few repeat customers? I mean, who in their right minds continues to do business with a dishonest, abusive-policy company that rips patrons off at every opportunity? 

After a miserable experience on our return flight from Detroit to Denver on Spirit Airlines, I decided to do a little research. The results are obvious: My misery has commensurate company. The "word" is out on Spirit Airlines, and more often than not, it's a profanity. So why are they still here?   

Cruising downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan...centered in the middle, Elaine, my lovely sister-in-law, and Dan, my bigger, older, wiser brother. The other two are freeloaders :)
Humor me...pa-leease, and Google Spirit Airline's customer reviews. Warning: Some of the horror stories will make The Exorcist seem like a Disney movie. 

See what I mean? Now, if you want some chuckles, check out caustic articles/columns by journalists in News Magazine publications, starting with John Rollert's article, "Dispirited," in New Republic. Then Derek Thompson's article, "How terrible Is Spirit Airlines, Really?" from The Atlantic. Next, Chris Morran's report for Consumerist (an online magazine version of Consumer Reports) titled, "Spirit Airlines: Only U.S. Carrier To Make List Of World’s Worst.

To be fair, some of the above articles are a tad "dated," so I kept at it, wanting to find out if our recent negative experience was representative of today's Spirit Airlines. It wasn't easy to find anyone waxing poetic about Spirit, so I settled for a 2017 article from Fox (fake) News:Spirit Airlines ranks last in customer satisfaction survey for third year. I'll leave it to The Onion to say what almost everyone who has flown Spirit already knows: "FAA Report: Spirit Airlines Is The Fucking Worst." 

Buckle Up
Anyone who flies has at least one airline "horror story." Most stories have to do with being stranded due to weather related "Domino-effect" cancelations. Though horrible, I don't count such things against airlines. Weather cancelations are bound to happen and are one of the risks passengers assume when flying...that and crashing. We can't blame airlines for "acts of God." Besides, it's hard to prove "malfeasance" when all the witnesses are in body bags. 

Nevertheless, what does count and can be proven are all the stories about abysmal "customer service" and "shell-game" hidden fees. It seems trickery and deceit is more pervasive throughout the airline industry than ever, where the customer is "baited" with a low fare, then fleeced with up-charges for checked luggage, carry-ons, seat locations, leg room, snacks, beverages, and so on till their low fare "Deal" stinks like armadillo roadkill in the hot Texas sun.  

This kind of dishonest Corporate "save-a-buck" maggot-mantra is now eating it's way through the eyeballs of "discount airlines" and spreading. In one article I was shocked to read Spirit boasted that their only responsibility to passengers is to get them from point A to point B safely...and that everything else is your problem. Such a pity; an industry that used to take pride in "Friendly Skies" and "Happy Fliers," now forcefully removes and beats the crap out of innocent passengers, aggressively confronts mothers with crying babies, and up-charges your ass to pad their "bottom" lines (again, pun intended).   

Though they didn't literally "beat the crap out of us," our experience with Spirit Airlines left us feeling prodded like "cattle." At every opportunity they attempted to reach into our wallet, which ruined our flying "experience." But for the empathy of one steward, I would be contacting a lawyer. Buckle up mates, we're about to encounter some "turbulence."

The Good
Our "story" started out great. Bobbie found a reasonable roundtrip rate for us on Kayak.com. She's used Kayak before and never had a problem. But in the fiercely competitive world of "cheapest fare wins," Kayak booked us out of Denver on a United flight, but had us returning on Spirit, a "discount" airline we were not familiar with. 

In the wake of recent bad PR videos (like United "thugs" forcefully bouncing a ticketed, boarding pass approved, passenger from his assigned seat like some shoe-bomber terrorist) we were treated kindly by United's personnel...from gate to in-flight crew. Hopefully that inhumane incident will put the final "nail in the coffin" to the airline's outrageous policy of overbooking flights.   

We boarded United with the allowed two carry-on bags each—a small overnight bag stuffed with clothes and toiletries, and a soft-side computer case for our laptops. We stowed our bags in the overhead compartment and placed our computer cases on the floor underneath the seat in front of us (as instructed) for later use in-flight. No checked bags. No extra fees. No hassles. No problems. The flight was full, but thankfully, Bobbie had strategically requested our seats to be adjacent "Isle seats" so I could stretch my legs and avoid climbing over passengers to go to the restroom. 

Our seats on the United flight were actually somewhat plush and comfy and had ample legroom for my kingsized body and freakishly large feet. Armrests were wide and padded, and a video monitor was attached to the seat-back in front of each passenger with options for pay-per-view movies, TV shows, and Internet...all priced at "something.99." I coughed up $7.99 for internet, wondering what marketing genius came up with the idea to knock off a penny from what was essentially an 8 buck purchase. Like, is "Corporate" so presumptive and out of touch with consumers that they actually believe we wouldn't dare pay 8 bucks for an internet connection, but would swarm at the opportunity to get it for $7.99? 

Aside from that, all was well in the "Friendly Skies," and time flew by (pun intended). It was a fair-valued, "hearts and unicorns" experience...this from a Geezer tightwad who complains when his "Life Is Good" ball cap threads-out after a mere 6 years of continuous wear.

The Bad
Enough pleasantries; let's skip forward a week. It's mid-afternoon on Departure Day and my brother, Dan, and sister-in-law, Elaine, drop us at the curb of Detroit Metropolitan Airport. We have just enough time to get through security, find Spirit's gate, and grab a bite to eat. 

Bobbie and I take a seat at the gate with about 20 minutes till boarding time. A couple minutes later a somewhat garbled message comes over the PA system, something about "one carryon bag." Bobbie marches up to the gate counter to inquire about the announcement, while I "people watch" two pilots. I assume they are our pilots, and study them as they squint into the screens of smart-phones. 

I noticed something disheveled about their appearance. Most pilots I've see at airports dress snappy and with pride...like officers in the military. It's reassuring...instills confidence and trust. But these guys? Their uniforms looked as though they were pulled off the rack at some Goodwill store. Not only did they not fit worth a damn, the pant's pockets were frayed and stretched to the point of tearing at the seams and their white shirts appeared as if they'd been slept in. About this time, I see a beautiful bright yellow plane with the "Spirit" logo rolling up to our gate. Sure enough, our pilots head through the gate to get a jump on disembarking passengers. The ground crew goes to work.

Meanwhile, Bobbie's not looking happy at the desk. To her astonishment, and later, my rage, she's told that we are allowed only one carryon bag. Bobbie gets that look...the one that even scares me...and explains with pointed finger that we flew in on United...that our round-trip was booked as a package deal and that it's unfair to change the baggage rules midway. If United allows two carryons, Spirit should honor that policy. 

Ha. The lady had obviously heard this a million times and is ready: "Ma'am, if you would have paid attention when you bought your tickets, you would have seen our baggage policy. If you want to take a second carryon bag there is a charge of 65 dollars." Period. We have no choice. Bobbie hands over 130 bucks for our two computer bags. What initially seemed like a reasonable fare, was just unraveled by Spirit Airline's shenanigans. 

Oh, so that's how you make up for your "Lowest Fares" ads.  

We're called to "board;" needless to say, I'm outraged. What the Hell good does it do to spend hours shopping for a reasonable fare only to have some freaking predatory airline like Spirit pilfer 130 bucks for two little computer bags? Was it really in print when Bobbie bought her tickets online? If so, how big was the print and on what page? This, my friends, is why they don't allow guns in airports. I'm ready to shoot the "messenger." I noticed several disgruntled flyers handing over credit cards at the gate as we boarded. I felt like asking the "messenger" clerk how it feels to work for a scumbag airline that extorts its customers, but bit my tongue.

The Ugly  
Like you, I would love for this story to end here. But extra bag fees are just the "tip of the iceberg" when it comes to all the creative ways Spirit Airlines extorts money from unsuspecting customers. 

The night before we were scheduled to fly back to Denver on Spirit Airlines, Bobbie goes on their website to print our boarding passes. In going through the procedure a seating diagram appears and we are asked to choose seats. As she "hovers" the curser over different sections we notice that there are additional fees associated with picking out where we would like to sit...the better the seat, the higher the price. We are led to believe that we must pick our seats before we can print boarding passes. Balked by the additional fees (from 5 dollars to as much as 19 dollars Per Seat, if memory serves me correctly), we back out and try again. Same thing; it appears we must pay an extra fee to get a seat assignment before we can print boarding passes. 

Finally we found a way around the seat assignment fees that kept popping up, and printed our boarding passes. Of course this leaves it up to Spirit to choose our seats. So where do you think they put us? Yep, clear in the back of the plane, right next to a noisy, stinking toilet with a line of people throughout most of the flight. Oy vey.  

Are you getting the picture? "All's 'fare' in love and price-wars." We slowly make our way back to the "toilet bowl" section. I'm worried about how loud it will be seated next to the "John" at the back of the plane. The boarding line stalls. Why is it taking so long for passengers to stow a bag and get seated? That's when I notice some large-framed passengers struggling to fit into their seats. When they do squeeze in, they're sandwiched shoulder to shoulder with row-mates, literally gripped by armrests. 

Bobbie volunteers to take the middle seat so I can use the isle for additional leg room. I'm the last to sit down and when I do, crunch, my knees jam into the seat-back in front of me. It prompts a dirty look from the occupant.

Though tall, I have a 34 in waistline, below average by today's standards. Still, I barely fit...gripped by armrests that are more like shards of campfire kindling. Between knees and hips, I'm wedged in place, such that I need assistance fastening my seatbelt. There's no video screen on the seat-back, no internet, no magazines. Only a foldout of emergency evacuation procedure and a "how-to" diagram about lifejacket inflation... "in the unlikely event of a water landing." As the plane is backed away from the gate, I feel the need to hit someone.

On the taxi out to the runway, I'm already uncomfortable and wonder out loud how much longer it will take to fly west against the jet stream. When the crew finally quits running up and down the isle, I seek more room by twisting in my seat enough to poke knees and feet into the isle. It's an awkward position and hurts my back. I groan to Bobbie, "This is going to be a long flight." 

There's a sudden sucking roar from the toilet. A steward exits the "John," followed by a loud slam of the door. Passengers turn in unison to see if a bomb went off. I retract legs and feet back into my seat-pod to let him pass...which he doesn't do. 

Time to document. I pull out my camera and begin snapping photos of the agonizing position I'm expected to endure for 3 hours. As I'm taking pictures of my knees pressed into the seat in front of me, the steward appears and says, "Hey there, taking vacation photos?" I blurt out, loudly, "I'm sending these to your CEO. These seats are ridiculous." About twenty people turn and stare, like, "Oh no. There's an angry psycho on board."

Knees agains metal...

One and a quarter inch armrests
After liftoff, I begin to notice how little foam there is between my ass and hard plastic. The seat belt sign goes off and that same steward makes his way back to our cheap seats. He doesn't want me to send those photos to his CEO and indicates he might be able to move me to the "emergency exit isle" where there's more leg room. "Are those seats more padded than this one?" He doesn't laugh.    

Fool Me Once
Don't we have enough hoops to jump through when flying without companies like Spirit Airlines dog-piling on? Do they not recognize the noose of dread, hassles, and negative experiences tightening around their industry? Do they not understand the time and frustration involved in trying to vacuum-pack a weeks worth of clothing and bare necessities into a tiny "free" bag in order to avoid their stupid fees...that we get up before dawn in order to beat traffic...pray there's no mishap that turns the freeway into parking lot...just so we can arrive in time to find an outlying, reasonably priced parking spot, hail a standing-room-only shuttle bus, brave "security," find our Gate, pay $12.99 for a limp breakfast burrito that tastes like powdered eggs and sawdust, wash it down with  $5 dollar tepid coffee, only to be gouged for a last-minute "fee?" Oh, the privilege of flying.   

Dear Spirit Airlines: I felt as if I had been mugged after our return flight from Detroit to Denver aboard your "Air Bus." Your "fleabags" fee-bagged me an extra130 bucks for two small, soft-side carryon computer bags. Your sardine can seating assaulted me physically, and your patronizing arrogance insulted my intelligence and dignity. Most travelers can't afford First Class and scour the internet looking for reasonable fares. To that end, I find your ads nothing short of conniving misrepresentations that dishonor the truth. You suck unwary travelers in with "cheap seat" ads, only to fleece them later with fees—the worst of which is your policy of allowing only one small carryon, a bomb that you drop at the Gate after we are trapped with two, vulnerable, only wanting to be off on a hard-earned vacation or back home to the comfort of our own beds. 
In closing, I submit highlights from a New York Times Business Week article regarding Spirit Airlines:
...consider yourself warned: Spirit unabashedly contends that its only obligation to customers is getting them safely from Point A to Point B. Everything else is extra...literally. There is no excuse, plea or tap dance that will save you from the $110 change fee if you miss your plane (which) a lot of people find...outrageous. (At) one-tenth the traffic (of) United, (Spirit) has inspired an amazing amount of online venting...Most(ly) Spirit fliers who were charged fees they say they didn’t see coming, or couldn’t get refunds...or who had to buy new tickets on different airlines when Spirit flights were canceled. 

Fool us once, Spirit Airlines, but not twice. You treat customers like cattle. What's next, tags in our ears? Charging to use the restroom? You are not a discount airline; it is but a disguise, as your professed low fares are a throwback to the old "lost leader," where you temp passengers to "click" and come into your "store," then pick our pockets with additional fees and torture us with "child seats." 

A child's highchair has more room

May you be boycotted out of business and your CEO burn in Hell...or worse, be forced to fly his own airline. :)

Next up, a more pleasant post about visiting family in O-high-O.


  1. Thanks for the rant and our laugh for the day. Now we know to avoid Spirit at all costs!

  2. Wow, glad I decided to book Southwest for my trip to Denver. I had noticed Spirit and Frontier had lower fares, but when I clicked to read their baggage fees, I was shocked at how expensive they both were-- combined fare & fees brought them much higher than Southwest. After seeing your photos, I guess you only fly Spirit if you're a slender 10-yr-old with no luggage and no need to eat or drink. Yikes!

  3. You paid for a Yugo and expected a Mercedes?

  4. I'm speechless ... holy shit!!!!

  5. Shitty Planes Invite Real Intestinal Turmoil = SPIRIT

  6. They sound despicable. It doesn't sound to me like you were expecting champagne, but rather just a reasonable experience, with the expected charges (which you did have on United).

    I know there are reasons for having to fly at times, but I'll pretty much drive anywhere that wheels will take me. Sure it takes longer and costs more (and is statistically more dangerous), but at least it's mine. I prefer my own uncomfortable seat :D

    But what I really came here to say is that, while I would never have wished a bad experience on you, you do write such a satisfying rant (which is not to use the term to mean you were not justified). You're so articulate when you're mad :D But seriously, they just get to the heart of the matter, and you don't sit around with the "well, maybe they were just having a bad day, let's just be nice and give them the benefit of the doubt." When clearly they are systemically evil. Boo on them. (How horrible to work there.)

  7. It's disappointing when flying becomes an unpleasant adventure. I did get a chuckle out of you fitting in that small seat next to the restroom. I will avoid Spirit, based on your entertaining report.

  8. And United, Delta, American--the list goes on. Flying sucks anymore, period! I am 5' 9" tall and while not as slim as I used to be, I am fairly slim--I don't fit in any airline seat any longer. United had the audacity to send me a "hope you enjoyed your flight, please take this survey" email. There is absolutely nothing to "enjoy" about flying in today's rip off world!

  9. My last flight was in 2000; swore I would never fly again until TSA was no longer part of the flying 'experience'.

    But it is the two flights before that was memorable.I was flying from Tokyo to Hanoi with a change of planes in Hong Kong to Vietnam Airlines. There was not much time to make the change and I was stressing somewhat about finding the right gate and getting to it in time. When I entered the terminal in Hong Kong there stood a very attractive Vietnam Airlines Vietnamese girl with a sign sporting my name. She led me, almost at a trot, across the terminal to the proper gate and assisted getting me on board the connecting flight.

    That was only the start of how surprised I was at the treatment by the Vietnamese toward their former enemy - but, they won!

  10. As a big fan of old barns you really had me excited for a few seconds.....then I saw the yellow plane, I thought to myself , of God please tell me they got suddenly ill and had to lay over and fly United home in up graded coach class seats.
    Mark I am really sorry about what probably was you last airline flight and I don't blame you. Al & I have experienced the cramped seat problems off & on over the years. All the additional upgraded charges tho have come about more recently as that's the way they make their gravy. The only way I am going fly , which I don't plan on, is to shell out the bucks to be in business class, I could not fly in a sardine can situation, totally ruins the experience of flying. Like many other things in our society it cost a lot extra to have an enjoyable traveling experience.
    Glad Im 73, been there ,seen enough to know what the rest of the planet is about and thankful we live where we do and have the San Juans within driving range of home.
    We will miss Paris though.
    From Sonoma Co.

  11. Hwy mark. Have flown Spirit a few times. Play their game. Get around all their dumb fees. Always wonder how anyone over my 5 ft 10 would do?? Now I know! Walden creek r v steve

  12. Allegiant does nearly the same thing, by the time you get fee'd on your 'cheap' base airfare, you should have just used Southwest airlines

  13. Frontier airlines much the same headphones close your eyes and chill

  14. Furious passengers clash with Spirit Airlines employees and police at Fort Lauderdale airport https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2017/05/09/furious-passengers-clash-with-spirit-airlines-employees-and-police-at-fort-lauderdale-airport/?utm_term=.ca5f394c9d4a

    1. Oh My God!!! Spirit just doesn't "get it," that you can't underpay your employees and expect them to jump through all your hoops...that you can't treat passengers like crap and expect them to continue to do business with you. YOU brought this on your self, Spirit. One less airline to rip us off with hidden fees and child seats. Goodbye.

  15. The more I read about Spirit the more I will try to avoid them like the plague. Low ticket prices are tempting but one has to think this one through a bit more - one glitch and you're screwed.


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