Monday, May 23, 2011

Friends Don't Let Friends Fly Spirit Airlines

We interrupt our normally scheduled political commentary to bring you this special public service announcement.  This past week I attended the wedding of a close friend in the Dominican Republic.  The wedding was beautiful.  The island was beautiful. The people were beautiful.  My flight, on the other hand, was anything but beautiful.  In fact, I had such a horrible experience with this airline that it has become nothing short of my duty to inform all of you of the shenanigans perpetrated by an outfit that fancies itself an airline company.  Two words: Spirit Airlines. Two more words:  Never Again.

Prior to booking my flight to DR, I had never heard of Spirit Airlines.  So as far as I knew they were as reputable as any of the 100s of other airlines around the world that I've never heard of before.  As I've come to find out, they're one of the relatively smaller carriers that provide flights primarily to the Caribbean islands (Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, etc.) as well as to Latin America.

Admittedly, had I performed my due diligence I'm sure that at some point I would have come across the many consumer articles that have lambasted Spirit Airlines for their lousy customer service, one-sided agreements and spur-of-the-moment canceled flights.  But then again, how well do you really know the people who write those kind of reviews?  For all I knew, it could have been the reviewer's first flight anywhere and they decided to complain simply because they had to wait in line.

So for any who are reading this, please know that my complaint against Spirit Airlines is a complaint as an experienced traveler; I've flown to several countries around the world and over half of the states in the U.S.  (33 to be exact but who's counting?)  I have experienced: on-time flights, delayed flights, and cancelled flights; lost luggage, found luggage, and sent-to-a-difference-continent-and-then-returned-to-me luggage; nice pilots, jerk pilots, and just plain overworked and fell asleep at the wheel pilots; happy stewardesses, sad stewardesses, and down right pissed off stewardesses; 1st in line for take off, 10th in line for take off, and "oh you thought this flight was going to leave today?" in line for take off; made connections, missed connections, and "my computer doesn't show that you have a connection" connections; an entire section of seats to myself, had an entire row of seats to myself, and rode bitch between two 200+ pound individuals for 6 hours with two babies crying both in front of me and behind me and a 5 year old kid kicking the back of my seat with impunity from his model parent-of-the-year mother.  So when I say that Spirit Airlines will NEVER get my business ever again even if they were the last airline on Earth, then that should tell you something.

My troubles with Spirit began shortly after I booked my flight. What I thought was one helluva deal on airfare (they were approx. $150-$200 cheaper than any other flight available) would soon turn out to be one of the biggest wastes of time and money I've ever experienced.  As the old adage goes:  "You get what you pay for." 

A few weeks after booking my flight on Spirit I get a message from (not from Spirit) that my itinerary had changed.  I call up the good people at priceline and they inform me that Spirit had unilaterally canceled my return flight.  For no reason.  Just because they could.  So for several weeks, I had no return flight.  I called Spirit several times to verify and each time it took nearly an hour before I could get a real live human being on the phone who could tell me the status of my return flight.  Long story short, Spirit booked my return flight on the following day after I was supposed to return, which extended my vacation by 1 day.  But here's the kicker: they refused to pay for my extra day of hotel charges which their actions caused me to incur.  Now ordinarily I wouldn't complain about an additional day in paradise but its the principle of the matter.  Any respectable airline would have at least offered to cover some if not all of the additional cost of my hotel stay as a recognition of the inconvenience they've caused. But not Spirit. No sir.  They basically told me, "not our problem. Read our policy."  Which I did, and discovered the fine print that said the bastards were unfortunately right.  After some due diligence, I also discovered that the FAA allows airlines to get away with these kinds of things so long as they are abiding by their own written policies.  Go figure.

So finally the big day comes and I catch my flight to DR.  I show up at the airport at 5:00 am for a 6:40 am flight thinking surely I must be early enough to beat the rush.  Nope.  There was a disorganized line stretching out before me comprised of scores of the most ghetto-fabulous folks you have ever seen. I don't like to talk bad about my people, but the words "Soul Plane" kept coming to mind.  Every single stereotypically ghetto appearance, behavior or curse word that you can think of was represented in this line.  There were more fake Louis, Gucci and Prada bags then I could count. One cat was even checking in a flat screen TV while simultaneously cursing his baby mama out over the phone. And to make matters worse, the line was not moving!  By the time I got up to the front of the line (at 6:28 am) I could see what the issue was; the receptionist was able to check my ID, check in my bag and print my boarding pass in about 60 seconds but the line had been held up because a lot of the people in line either (A) had little or no experience flying before or (B) felt like having a 15-minute discussion about the baggage fee or (C) they were trying to check in house hold items at the luggage counter.  Because the flight was, of course, delayed, I was able to make it on board despite the fact that I spent nearly an hour and a half waiting to check in.

On the return flight things got really interesting.  Based on my previous experience checking into Spirit, this time I went to check in 4 hours ahead of time. When I got to the counter I was the only person in line but it was a victory short-lived. The receptionist asks me if I speak Spanish. I tell her that unfortunately my Spanish is not that great and she does her best to tell me in English that Spirit has overbooked the flight and that they want me to volunteer to stay and fly out the following day.  In my head I'm thinking "The following day?  I'm already a day behind because you bastards canceled my original return flight.  Now you have the audacity to ask me to stay yet another day?"  But I knew this was in no way the fault of the lady working the counter so in the best Spanish I can muster, I politely tell her that I had to work the next day and so I needed to be on the plane leaving in 4 hours.  She appreciated my attempt at Spanish, went back and talked to her manager and came back with my boarding pass.

I get on the plane, leave DR, and arrive in Florida for my connecting flight to New York.  The terminal in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is one of Spirit's two hubs (the other is in Detroit), but to look around you would never know it.  There was exactly 1 bathroom, 1 food spot, 1 magazine shop and that was IT!!!  The whole terminal was hardly bigger than your average double-car city bus. And this was the "Hub" we're talking about here, folks.

I make my way over to the departure board, which was literally an old TV sitting on a pole, and it informed me that my flight to New York, as you might have guessed by now, was delayed.  By two hours!  So instead of flying out at 8 pm I didn't end up flying out until 10 pm, which put me back into New York around 1 am.  But it wasn't just my flight that was delayed - EVERY flight leaving the terminal was delayed!  The weather in Florida was clear skies, so it had nothing to do with weather at the hub.  And based on the fact that the locations on the "board" literally ranged from New York to L.A., I highly doubt that there were weather issues at all of those other locations either.  Truth be told, I have no idea how all of the departing flights leaving from Florida were delayed at the same time, but if I had to speculate I'd say it's because Spirit Airlines only owns 35 commercial jets (no, I am not making that up).

As you can imagine, with all the departing flights being delayed, our shoe box of a terminal was becoming more and more crowded by the minute.  After a while there were literally no more chairs left for people to sit.  I managed to snag a chair early but I quickly gave it up after some lady's BeBe's kids came over and jumped up and down on my foot several times as I tried to relax.

After I finally get on the 10 pm flight to New York, we manage to touch down sometime around 12:30am.  Just when I thought my Spirit Airlines experience had finally come to a close, the captain comes on the intercom and tells us that another Spirit plane is occupying our gate and that we have to wait "30 minutes."  60 minutes later we hadn't moved an inch.  My phone had died so I couldn't even call, text, or surf the web to kill the time.  Finally, at 2:04 am (a full hour and a half after touching down at the airport) we were allowed to pull into the gate.  The reason we had to wait?  Spirit's planes are only compatible with certain gates and out of all the gates throughout New York's LaGuardia airport, Spirit only has 2 gates and both were being occupied by delayed flights. At 2 am.  On a Tuesday night.  You couldn't make this stuff up.

Hind sight being 20/20, I would have gladly paid $1000 dollars for any other airline's flight rather than endure the experience that I had with Spirit Airlines.

So please, tell everybody that you know never to give business to this airline because "Friends don't let Friends fly Spirit Airlines."

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