Dispirited – A review of Sprit Airlines

dis·pir·it·ed  (dĭ-spĭr′ĭ-tĭd) adj. — Affected or marked by low spirits; dejected.

I recently flew Spirit to save money for my project and the University of Minnesota, and as an experiment with an airline I had not previously flown.

The most important thing to note about Spirit is that it is much less expensive than Delta.

The next most important thing to note is that the planes are the same.

The third thing to note is the chairs are like folding metal chairs, with a minimal amount of padding, bolted to the floor (I exaggerate, not much).

The fourth thing to note is the pricing structure “nickels and dimes” you. They charge for carry-ons beyond the size of a personal item (purse, laptop bag, small backpack). (In exchange, you do get to Board earlier in Zone 1, so there is more space and you are not competing with smaller personal items.) They charge for drinks in addition to snacks on-board. They charge to print out a boarding pass at the gate agent rather than at home. They charge more for a bag if you didn’t prepay. All of these things are good for us collectively, they encourage travelers to think about their behaviors and reduce costs in the system. They may bite you if you are not careful.

The flight from MSP to DTW was on-time. We landed in a  thunderstorm in Detroit, so the airport kept ground crews from going out to greet the plane and guide it into the gate, leaving us on the plane for nearly 30 minutes extra. I can’t wait for automated airplane ground traffic control.

The return flight was delayed four and a half hours, supposedly due to crew scheduling (so they said over the PA system). (Sorry New Orleans and New York passengers whose flights were actually cancelled, the latter supposedly due to weather).

First it was delayed from 3:07 to 4:49, then to 6:44, then to 7:24 then to 7:32 then to 7:55 then to 7:57. Our gate was moved from D11 to D14 to D11, but I assume this was just part of the Spirit physical fitness program, just like when the Apple Watch reminds you to stand every hour.

We did eventually make a flight approach to MSP, but a few hundred feet off the ground, the pilot suddenly aborted the landing and veered upwards. After a few minutes a flight attendant informed us that Ground Control mandated that to avoid something on the ground. I guess it’s better than a collision. The question is if what they told us was true, or instead the pilot did something stupid, like approach the taxiway instead of the runway. We circled round and did land on the same runway about 10 minutes later, so whatever it was went away. This happens to the large carriers from time to time. Delta nearly killed me at LaGuardia one flight, aborting two landings in a row due to heavy wind.

The downside of a small airline with a small fleet and a small network is that it is more vulnerable if things happen which disrupt service (weather, mechanical issues, labor issues). There is less slack in the system and less redundancy. We were not informed the cause of the delay in writing. The day of the flight they were the second most delayed airline in the world according to FlightAware, with 32% of their flights delayed (and 13% cancelled) – ranked 8th in the world. Detroit at the time was only 8%, Minneapolis was at 7%.

As one of the cancelled passengers shouted “Spirit Sucks”. Another said “you get what you paid for”. Running an airline is hard. Running a profitable airline is even harder. (Just wait for the next downturn, they may look high and mighty now, but every downtown in the past has wiped out accumulated profits from the intervening expansion.) Spirit appears to be profitable.

They gave me a $7.00 meal voucher for the delay, so I bought most of a tuna sandwich (airport prices). They also credit me $50 towards my next Spirit flight. Sadly I don’t think there will be one.