One morning a few weeks ago, I remember Good Morning America reporting on a story that you would now have to pay $2 for a coffee on the supposedly discount Spirit Airlines. This during a time when Spirit Airlines was reporting record revenue. I shrugged it off, not thinking too much about it. So they want to charge for coffee – just another move by airlines to make people pay more. I hardly ever drink coffee on airplanes, so whatever.
It is my belief that it is a luxury to fly – regardless of airline. The fact that so many Americans can afford an airplane ticket is still small in comparison to those that can’t. I remember back in my childhood my parents would fly in the “family section” – a picnic-like table at the front of 2nd class allowed families to sit across from each other. I remember every flight guaranteed a meal, soda, snacks and if you were lucky, a visit to the cockpit for a pair of wings pin. Sure, those were the good old days. 9/11 happened and naturally things had to change. Airlines took a hit, and consequently, so did passengers. Security beefed up and everyone had to deal with the new regulations – any company producing liquids must have experienced an overall bump in revenue, easy-off shoes and most obvious – carry on luggage.
Airline fees went up, planes became overbooked (I’m looking at you United) and luggage got a lot lighter. We obliged in the name of convenience, security and time. No one wanted to wait at the luggage carousel or argue with the airline desk about why your bag never made it to NYC anyways. So we gladly accepted these changes, and perhaps it was a step in the right direction for our consumer driven culture.
And then I flew Spirit. Last weekend, I flew the notorious airline as it was listed as the cheapest flying from Portland to Vegas, albeit by like $10 on Kayak. A group of lady friends and I were headed to Zion for a bachelorette party. When I purchased the ticket, I saw nothing alerting me to the fact that a carry-on piece of luggage was an additional charge. Perhaps this is because I didn’t read the fine print – but considering it’s one of the only airlines that charges for carry-on luggage, perhaps they should make this print a little more obvious to their customers. Especially if they want return customers. So I purchased my ticket and thought nothing of it.
Fast forward to last Thursday when I went to check-in online. The first thorn was the fact that I had to create an online account to check in. I hate creating additional accounts and passwords for which I never remember. But that’s besides the point. To make a long story short – I overlooked the option to purchase a bag (because why would I? I only have carry on luggage). When I got the desk at the airline, I inquired about the bag situation. I would have to pay either $45 to carry my bag on or $50 to check it. The fee would double if I delayed until I got to the gate. WTF.
So I paid – I really didn’t have any other choice. And I would have to pay ANOTHER fee for my return trip. When I told the Spirit employee that it felt like highway robbery she remarked that no other airline could compare to their prices and everyone was charging for carry-on luggage. I promptly told her, “No, not all airlines charge – not even United or American – and that Spirit’s prices were not all that competitive”. The only response she mustered was, “Oh really” with a snub tone. Not that I cared, she was a nobody in the airline business. Certainly no one that would fix the fact I just got robbed. I moved on towards security.
Once on board, there were noticeable hints that I was on a very cheap airline (Hey Airlines, cheap dirty airplanes does not instill a sense of security and safety FYI). The “cheap” seats were in the back. The trays all had advertising stickers on them, reminiscent of pop up ads that you just don’t want to see but won’t go away. And yes, everything on the flight had a fee. I am actually surprised you didn’t need a credit card to use the bathroom. The only other thing I noticed – the staff were in their 50’s and 60’s. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it felt like Grandma’s Shuttle.
This is all in stark contrast to a Virgin Airlines flight I took the week before from SF to PDX – fun funky music played in the terminal, the staff greeted you by name, wine was free (as was coffee) and even though the individual seat tv screens were not working, the intercom guy apologized profusely and issued a slight discount on tickets since they were not working.
At the end of the day, the cost to fly Spirit was much higher than the next airline listed on the Kayak listing to Vegas on account of a $80 baggage fee. Frankly, it’s stupid, there’s room in the overhead, and they are gouging their customers – enticing them with supposed low fares and then hitting them with hidden fees along the way – but by that time, you’re already committed and the only thing you can do is open your wallet.
Spirit – I officially break up with you. You have no soul. It was completely your fault, not mine. United, American – you have lost your bottom-feeder status, congrats.
*Just a follow up note – I’m not the first to gawk at Spirit’s extra fees (as illustrated by the many links). Some people love flying Spirit and hopefully they’ve found ways to work the system to their advantage. My flight, destination and company were all fantastic besides – but considering few people know about the fees, I thought it worth while for friends and family to at least beware of what they might be getting into with an airline like Spirit.