I needed to go from New York City to Detroit in the afternoon. I had never made that connection before. When I searched my customary airlines the tickets cost in the $400 to $700 range, and routed me on ridiculous trips through Boston, Miami (!!!!) and Atlanta, taking most of the day, getting me there after midnight.
So I checked out Cheap Tickets and found a non-stop flight on Spirit Airlines from La Guardia to Detroit for $117. I signed up without hesitation. I have never flown on Spirit Airlines and I have never been at La Guardia airport.
Checking in at the Spirit Airlines counter was an experience unlike any airline experience I have ever had. When I got to the kiosk, it didn’t read my credit card. An agent eventually helped me with the swiping, and I got in. The kiosk menus are Byzantine. First it wanted to know if I would like to sit in the front of the plane in a ‘big seat.’ $60 please. I had a merry time figuring out that I did not and move on without accidentally spending another $60. It got so frustrating that I caught myself saying “what the f…” out loud right there at the kiosk, something I don’t normally do.
Then it wanted to know if I had carry-on bags. I didn’t, since I needed to check two bags, one being my demo rig with a lot of heavy computer equipment in a padded steel case. But I didn’t realize that I signed up for carry-on somehow until later, when my tab was presented. Since I didn’t want to spend $60 for nothing, I had to start over again from the beginning.
Then it wanted to know how many bags I was checking. I punched the ‘Two’ icon. That will be $83. I said ok. My demo case weighs 57 pounds. Their system could not deal with that fact, and when I was done, ready to get my luggage tags, the agent dumbly told me that one of my bags was 17 pounds overweight. No shit!
That would be another $50. So when I thought I was done paying nickels and dimes, I whipped out my Citicard one more time for another charge, this one done by the agent manually. I had a handful of receipts in my hand by now for all the little charges. The accountant will have a good time with my expense report. Go figure. My ticket was $117. My luggage charges were $133. That makes my ticket effectively $250, but I didn’t know that when I booked.
I was really glad when I walked away from the counter. No wonder there was a bewildered crowd of people there. They could have gotten rid of all the kiosks and helped the people directly and worked the lines much faster. I am kiosk-savvy. I could not deal with it. How about the grandma next to me? Haven’t the Spirit Airlines software guys ever flown on Southwest to learn how to build a workable kiosk interface?
Eventually I worked my way through the dungeon-like La Guardia security caves and gates to gate B6. What a treat. Every screaming toddler in New York City was jumping around gate B6. It was crowded with low-fare travelers. The few suits of us were out of place and out of sorts. What we don’t put up with for a non-stop to Detroit.
The plane left an hour late. It was a shiny new Airbus A-320, and the most important word was ‘bus’. Think of school bus seats and you get a good picture of the seats. When I saw the four ‘big seats’ in the front I didn’t shell out $60 for, I was glad I didn’t go for those. They looked just as crowded. I sat in 21C, an aisle seat. It was the very tightest airplane seat I have ever been in. My 6’1” frame just fit. My knees pressed into the seat in front of me. The seats did not recline since there was no room behind. The back of the seat ahead of me was so close that I could not open a magazine in my lap and turn the pages without turning it sideways. It was too tight to put my head back and try to doze. The head rest was too low for my head. Think school bus.
When we finally got underway, I felt truly sorry for the job of the flight attendants. When they came around with the water and soda cart, they asked: “Would you like to purchase something to drink?” Not many people took them up. I was afraid to go to the bathroom, because I was sure there would be a slot for a dollar bill on the door to get in.
Haven’t the Spirit Airlines executives ever flown on Southwest to learn that people would rather pay a fair price for a ticket and not bother paying for every bag, every pound of luggage and every drink of water?
Spirit is a new airline with a new business model that has completely annoyed me. I’ll wager it won’t be around long. Flying with them was a truly miserable experience and I will certainly avoid them in the future. Unless, of course, I need a non-stop from New York to Detroit in the afternoon.