What it's like to fly on Spirit Airlines

How the airline's payment system works

The most hated airline in America
You turn to Kayak.com to check out flights for an upcoming trip, and — what's that you see? A round-trip flight to your destination that's a whole $70 less than the next cheapest airline?

It only takes a few more clicks onto Spirit Airlines's website to encounter fees out the wazoo.

Spirit, ranked the most hated airline in America according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, touts itself as the no-frills "budget airline." A company spokesperson tells Tech Insider that most often, complaints come from people who book from a third-party website and don't understand how the airline's payment system works.

So before you book a flight, see what it's like to fly on Spirit.

These days, booking a flight often begins online. On Kayak, I discovered I could book a trip on Spirit for more than $100 cheaper than other airlines.

I hurried over to Spirit.com for more details. It told me it was "loading something awesome ..."

I immediately encountered fine print.

I selected my flight, which cost $98, and was presumably on my way.

But checkout only got trickier. Spirit prices its fares "a la carte," meaning the passengers pays extra for seat assignment and baggage.

In a struggling economy, more airlines (such as Frontier and Delta) are turning to a la carte pricing. Considering Spirit's sky-high profits in 2016, it appears to be working.

A carry-on bag costs $26 (yes, you read that right), while a checked suitcase runs $21. If you check at the gate, they're $100 each.

Spirit Airlines gave me the "privilege" of picking my seat, which cost as little as $10. Otherwise, I could have a random seat assigned at check-in for free.

It also costs $10 to check in at the ticket counter at the airport. The fees racked up.

Though the a la carte model can be deceiving, Paul Berry, director of communications at Spirit Airlines, says it ends up saving passengers money. In 2015, the company commissioned the US Department of Transportation to pull data on the average total cost of a domestic one-way flight. Spirit Airlines cost $85 less than the industry standard.

According to a 2015 survey by the International Air Transport Association, price was the No. 1 motivator in picking an airline when customers shop for flights.

By the time I was prepared to check out, my one-way ticket went from $79 to $173.

I bailed on booking Spirit. And I'm glad I did. Here's what I learned about the airline by Googling around ...

Only 20% of Spirit flights arrive on time, making it the most delayed airline in America, according to data from the US Department of Transportation.

More than 6,000 complaints regarding flight cancellations and delays were filed in 2015. Another 3,000 complaints pertained to lost baggage.

Spirit's small fleet (as compared to other airlines) limits the amount of trips it makes daily, according to Berry. When a flight is cancelled due to weather, it's harder to accommodate those passengers because there likely isn't a Spirit flight going to their destination the same day.

On board, the legroom situation is abysmal. Spirit grants just 28 inches, which is hardly enough for a woman's purse, let alone two human legs.

Spirit is tied with budget airline Frontier for the least amount of legroom available. The top-ranked airline, JetBlue, provides 33 inches of space.

Berry explains that the limited amount of legroom on Spirit flights allows the company to squeeze more seats on the plane, helping to bring down ticket prices.

The tray table resembles a windowsill more than a drink stand. Forget about fitting a laptop.

Speaking of which, you've got to pay for drinks, too. Water, juice, and mixers cost $3 each.

Keep in mind, when passengers travel on an airline like Virgin America or United, which offers drinks and snacks, customers still pay for those goods. The cost is just bundled into their fare.

Say sayonara to free (or any) in-flight entertainment. There's no Wi-Fi either.

The airline is in talks with several internet providers to bring Wi-Fi onto its planes, though implementation is more than a year out, Berry says. He says the weight of the equipment — which would raise fuel costs and, thus, ticket prices — has held Spirit back in the past.

With Spirit's "bare fare" system, you get what you paid for, which usually means not much.

Though, kudos to this young woman, who wore seven layers of clothing to avoid carry-on fees. Hero.


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