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“You Weren’t My First Choice:” A Love Letter to Spirit Airlines

“You Weren’t My First Choice:” A Love Letter to Spirit Airlines
Joe Cortez

On a recent trip, I had the pleasure of flying aboard Spirit Airlines for the first time. Over the 90 minutes from Orlando, Fla. to Charlotte, N.C., I was given plenty of time to explore my humanity, the state of low-cost carriers and the life choices that lead me there. The result is this: a love letter to Spirit Airlines.



Dear Spirit Airlines,

As with most flyers, you weren’t my first choice of airline. In fact, you weren’t my second, either. Instead, you were the cheapest option to get me home after a weekend with friends in Orlando. And even then, the term “cheapest” was debatable.

To begin with: the airfare was completely unbundled. Everything came with a price, from selecting my seat to getting a better boarding group (which still felt very random, at best). What perplexed me the most was when it cost less to check a bag than to bring one on board. Certainly, my personal item was free – but $30 to check versus $36 to carry-on seems a little impractical.

Because I was too “frugal” to purchase my seat selection ahead of time (and there were no Big Front Seats left available), I was stuck in a middle seat, left questioning my decisions between two other flyers. I now understand why I just paid for the airfare alone: no matter which seat I would have chosen, they would have almost all been equally miserable.

Then came the optional “snack” purchases. The $5 charge for a 12-ounce can of soda made the overpriced $4 bottle of water seem like a steal. I’m sure that I was not the only one to feel that way: The in-flight menu also had a suspicious tear out of it that almost resembled a bite mark.

After sitting through the world’s tightest airline seats, I’m still not convinced that the aircraft could be safely evacuated in the event of an emergency. Getting in and out of them, to begin with, was a struggle, let alone getting anything from my personal item. In the event of a major incident, I’m not sure I would be able to make it out and work with the other passengers to escape safely.

In the 90 minutes we spent together, I was left to contemplate the state of aviation today. Over the weekend, my friend quipped: “Flying is what you make it.” While I agree, I don’t see any circumstance where anything I could have done could make the experience better.

But you did give me a new appreciation for the competition – even if I’m in a city dominated by American Airlines. This trip allowed me to stop worrying, and learn to love the legacy airline (including Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines). While their seats are getting thinner and legroom is tightening, at least I have the option to select a better seat with nicer amenities. Through holding the right credit card, I can choose to either carry on my bag or check one for free. And despite the delays and irritating connections in Atlanta or John F. Kennedy, I can make the flying experience what I want it to be.

While I’m glad I got to fly with you, I don’t know that I can either recommend it or willingly do it again. If given the option, I would probably travel aboard a Greyhound bus instead. At least there I can get free Wi-Fi and have more space to sit next to equally colorful characters.

But don’t stop flying, Spirit. Through your interesting business model, you give the rest of us perspective on the aviation business today. When points devalue, routes get cut, flights get canceled and nobody wants to help, it could always be worse. We could be flying with you instead.

Thank you for that perspective. I’ll be sure to hold onto it the next time I’m forced to pay $50 for a seat with extra room in economy.

View Comments (15)


  1. Bowen74

    January 14, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    ULTRA low cost carrier…

  2. jamesteroh

    January 14, 2020 at 4:04 pm

    I use to love flying Spirit back in the days before they became so stingy and had a busienss class cabin. I could fly business class DTW/LGA for not much more than NWA wanted in coach on that route. And they were very generous with the booze, they didn’t mix the drinks for you but they’d give you two minis with a can of your mixer and had no problem giving you two more. But then they got to be ultra cheap and now your miles expire after something like six months of inactivity. They went from being my preferred carrier for DTW to LGA to a carrier I wouldn’t fly on for free

  3. Barrheadlass

    January 15, 2020 at 4:42 am

    My daughter is flying RDU to New Orleans today. Can’t wait to hear about her flight. She’d mentioned the carry on fee to me.

  4. DeltaFlyer123

    January 15, 2020 at 5:41 am

    I think the next step in ultra-low-cost flying will be to transport people as cargo – packaging them in life support cylinders, stacked neatly side by side, while they are knocked out for the duration of the flight, to be awakened after being unpackaged at their destination – by robots, of course.
    I haven’t worked out the checked bag scenario – that can go via post office, and as for carry-on, well, they won’t really need any of that on board anyway.

  5. pmiranda

    January 15, 2020 at 5:42 am

    Although I almost always fly the majors, I LOVE that spirit and frontier charge more for carry ons than checked bags. Boarding is fast and there’s never a fight to get my camera bag that I actually NEED to carry on into a storage bin.
    Charging for anything other than water is the norm for not-so discount LATAM, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen on shorter domestic coach on the majors soon.

  6. alexmyboy

    January 15, 2020 at 6:39 am

    we had spirit miles and could never use them

  7. emcampbe

    January 15, 2020 at 7:14 am

    Sounds about right.

    The funny thing is, I bet most people flying Spirit don’t realize that, when they put together the all-in $ they spent to fly Spirit (airfare, extras, I need to pay to print a BP at the airport???), for many, it is going to be as much or more than the all-in on a full service carrier. I’m sure there are some who it might work out cheaper for, but not most.

    Last time I wrestled with this decision was in Europe, trying to figure out the best way to get from London to Madrid. Looking at Ryanair/EasyJet vs. BA/IB, and when I took the time beforehand to actually see which would be better/more convenient – the choice wasn’t even a choice – it was BA/IB all the way. I’m assuming Spirit and Ryanair are truly hoping that most of the public, unlike me, don’t do their research first. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be flying Spirit.

  8. bagwell

    January 15, 2020 at 7:36 am

    you should’ve educated yourself BEFORE the flight not during it. Never had to pay $50 for a seat assignment, normally it was $39 for a BIG SEAT upfront or $8 or $10 for an aisle seat. I flew many times DEN-IAH and never had a bad experience on them – because I knew what to expect.

  9. topman

    January 15, 2020 at 8:46 am

    The part that struck me was – in an emergency with these reduced seat size and leg room would people be able to realistically get out in time – or how many has to die before congress does something. Like everything else in Washington the lobbyist is in the pockets of those making the decisions.

  10. jsds

    January 15, 2020 at 9:07 am

    I love the picture! Thank you!

  11. OUTraveling

    January 15, 2020 at 1:35 pm


    I think SPIRIT might bring back the catapult or perhaps a trebuchet (for $50 more).

  12. snidely

    January 15, 2020 at 5:28 pm

    Food – Humans don’t need to eat every 1.5 hours or even 3 or 4 hours. On 6 hour red eye, not at all. You can always bring your own.
    Drink – Bring your on.
    Baggage – We have taken numerous intl. flites with just carry on. Often take short (same day return OAK-LAX) w. just brief case.
    Seat assignment – Was surprised that JetBlue charged $9 to reserve last cross country flite. Still a fraction of price of AA or UAL. AND more room.

  13. hospes444

    January 15, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    I’m not sure why so many people BASH Spirit airlines? I’ve been flying them for years. If you know what you are doing it is a wonderful airline. And while there is less leg room than any other carrier, unless you are 6 foot 3 or more, it’s not really too bad. Clearly the picture in the article shows a person who is not sitting back in their seat!! If you’re going to slouch you wont fit in most carrier seats.
    Learn how to use Spirit to your advantage. I myself fly at least 8 times a year, and have had few problems with this airline.

  14. HMPS

    January 15, 2020 at 7:13 pm

    Hello ! You gets what you pays for !

  15. Gizzabreak

    January 15, 2020 at 8:52 pm

    Well penned. Never underestimate the amount of money to be made serving/servicing the way, way, bottom end of the market.

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