I Flew Spirit Airlines - And Survived (barely)
Disclaimer: The title of this post is somewhat of a farse; I never actually made it on the plane, and never actually "flew" Spirit airlines. This is the story of my first, and last, experience with the State's leading budget airline.
It was coming up on my good friend's 40th birthday; we all planned to meet halfway in New Orleans, celebrating sans-responsibilities for a weekend of fun. Now, these friends are budget savvy; they fly Spirit Airlines constantly and swear by them, stating "yea, sometimes they're delayed but its never too bad. Just pack light and be prepared!". We take them up on their offer and book our super affordable tickets to The Big Easy. We book our AirBnB, our Rover sitter; get time off of work, pack lightweight clothes for the humid heat. We're excited! "Maybe if this goes well we can fly Spirit up to Boston to visit family more often! It's so affordable, why not!" we mused.
We had stars in our eyes and a little extra cash in our pockets.
The day of the flight arrives and we scramble to get to work early, making up some of the time that we're taking off in the afternoon. We make great time getting from DC to the airport, and arrive nearly two hours before our flight. Upon check in, our Spirit gate agent informs us that our flight has been delayed over 4 hours; our 5:20 flight now scheduled for 9:35. The reasoning? "Weather in Atlanta", where our connecting flight is coming from.
Well, there's only one thing to do at this point; grab some magazines and a couple of drinks at the terminal bar.
By 8pm, our flight has been further delayed, until 11:45pm, set to arrive in New Orleans at nearly 2am local time. Our weekend away is quickly becoming just over 24 hours. I am upset, as are other passengers, as we try to garner some answers. The staff ignores our queries, offering "a food stipend" of $7 (!!) that cannot be used on alcohol or other "non-necessities". I turn down the stipend, as I've already eaten and had brought snacks in preparation for the bare bones flight. I ask to speak to a manager; I calmly yet sternly mention the predicament and that I'd like to talk to someone about getting a refund, including a stipend for my missed stay, my pre-paid house sitter, and the dinner that had charged me $10 a head for the missed reservations. The manager then feigns making a call and hides from me. Z, being non-confontational, is sitting watch, eavesdropping on what the entry-level gate agents are spewing as the reasoning for the "act of god" as to why we're so delayed. The manager says there is nothing he can do but refund the flights, but in an act to get me to calm down and not just get a refund he promises me that the flight will leave tonight.
I calmly and rationally tell him that if there is one more delay or cancellation that I will come up to the counter, I will not speak to him, I will hand him my tickets and ID, and he will issue a refund. Benjamin Schenk promises that will be fine, as he is sure the flight will leave and I will get to my destination.
I believe him; I'm a good person who gives chances. I go around the corner to the last bar left open in the terminal and chug some wine to calm my nerves and stress. We have at least an hour left to kill when we start hearing word that the flight is cancelled again.
A strong, angry woman scorned, I make my way to the gate demanding to speak Benjamin, the manager I had spoke with just one hour before. "He left for the night. We are not sure where our other managers are at this time" I'm nonchalantly informed, "but the flight has been cancelled. It is not showing a reason why in our systems". By now, the plane from Atlanta has landed and no one on our flight can understand why we are not being allowed on. Our friends already in NoLA are calling and checking the flight status as we check our emails and they all say the same; it's still set to leave at 11:29pm.
At 11:28pm, the email finally comes. ONE MINUTE before we were set to leave. It's official. Our trip is cancelled.
An angry yet organized mob waits their turn in line to speak with the agents at the ticket counter where they offer to get us on the next flight to New Orleans, which is 3 days later, and offering $50 towards our next flight on Spirit. Other people are missing a wedding; a 14 year old girl flying solo is missing Father's Day with her father. She's alone at an airport at midnight unable to get home, or anywhere. No accommodations are offered to the out of town guests who were just trying to get home.
Police arrive, and though they mention that they constantly have issues with Spirit, it has never been this bad. They agree that their "weather" excuse is bullshit, as all other flights on all other airlines have gone to and fro without a hitch.
We take our airfare refund, I take a number for a customer service agent (which is a two hour wait), and scream on the inside. After more than 8 hours in the airport, when I should have already been in New Orleans for 4 hours, I gather my suitcase and head home in the middle of the night. I've missed my friend's birthday and am out of nearly $1000 when all is said and done.
And what has Spirit done? Sent a tweet saying they'd like to make it right, then ignoring me for days afterwards.
I was hoping this would be a good experience. I'd flown budget airlines before; WOW to and from Iceland, Kulula in South Africa, RyanAir in Europe. Budget airlines are bare bones I know, but I have never been treated like this before. A flight has never been cancelled without reason, and I don't feel they would leave you to your own devices for where to stay in the middle of the night after a cancellation. I have never been so rudely ignored and treated by any airline staff ever. And I wasn't even unreasonable! For anyone who knows me, I am extremely calm and fairly patient under pressure. I did not raise my voice or threaten as other passengers may have.
I digress; I'm bitter and immensely upset, out of hundreds if not thousands of dollars, and all because I tried to save a couple bucks.
The Lesson? DON'T SCRIMP TO SAVE. And you get what you pay for.
Has anyone else flown Spirit or any other budget airline?