- Spirit Airlines inaugurated service between Newark and Boston on November 18, becoming the fifth carrier on the busy route.
- The two daily flights join a competitive sector dominated by American, Delta, United, and JetBlue, primarily serving business travellers and offering bonus perks for flyers.
- We flew on the first flight from Newark to Boston to see if Spirit’s dirt-cheap fares held up to the competition on the 200-mile route.
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Shipping up to Boston from New York just got a whole lot cheaper.
Spirit Airlines just launched its newest route between Newark and Boston on November 18, one of the shortest in its network. Starting with only two daily flights, the carrier joins a highly-competitive sector that sees four other airlines flying between the two cities with countless flights.
The New York-Boston route typically serves the business traveller segment and is known for the shuttle flights offered by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and JetBlue Airways from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The elite clientele flying the route often makes the short flights back and forth quite expensive since airlines know business travellers are willing to pay.
In true ultra-low-cost carrier fashion, however, Spirit is now the cheapest carrier on the route by far, offering fares as low as $US18 one-way. That beats all other airlines and even most bus and rail connections between the two cities, save for the famous one-dollar bus.
I flew on the first flight to Beantown to see just how Spirit would hold its own on the 200-mile route. It’s not technically a shuttle flight since it doesn’t depart from LaGuardia but, for the purposes of this story, that’s how I’ll refer to it.
Here’s what it’s like flying on a Spirit Airlines shuttle flight from Newark to Boston.
Though the first flight of any new route should be cause for celebration, it was shockingly empty at Newark airport just a week before Thanksgiving.
Spirit Airlines uses Terminal B here and while typically reserved for international carriers, it’s also used by Allegiant, Frontier, and Delta, so it should have been busier.
I’d flown Spirit over the summer so knew what to expect from the airline: plexiglass partitions at check-in, masks required onboard, hand sanitizer stations during boarding, etc.
I also knew I could skip check-in and go to a kiosk to save money on printing a boarding pass, so I headed straight there.
The seating map for the flight showed full, which I figured par for the course as Spirit had cancelled the flight later in the day to Boston and presumably bumped all those passengers onto this flight. I was assigned an aisle seat, though, so I wasn’t too worried.
Boarding pass in hand, I headed straight to the gate as there wasn’t anything worth sticking around pre-security to enjoy. Some of the shops were open but the Priority Pass lounge was not.
Spirit participates in TSA PreCheck but, as is my typical experience when flying on an ultra-low-cost airline, it wasn’t printed on my boarding pass despite uploading my known traveller number.
While it may seem like a superficial perk to a leisure traveller, it can mean saving valuable minutes for a business traveller. In this case, the difference between PreCheck and regular security was 25 minutes.
Arriving at the gate a few minutes before boarding, I was sure that the flight would be full as the gate area was jam-packed. As I waited for boarding, I went to go have a look at the plane.
Our aircraft for the day would be one of Spirit’s newest, an Airbus A320neo.
Still rare in the US, the fuel-efficient jet is a favourite among ultra-low-cost airlines due to its cost savings and this one had just been delivered in October.
Despite the scores of people sitting near the gate, it became increasingly clear that this wouldn’t be a crowded flight when boarding began.
Spirit boards its aircraft in zones, with zone assignments based on the type of ticket that you have and the seat you’re assigned. If you have a Spirit credit card or purchased a special seat, you’ll likely board in the first few zones.
After the crew boarded, only a small handful of passengers boarded with each zone. Numerous boarding calls for each zone yielded fewer passengers than expected.
The jetway was devoid of any Spirit Airlines-branded social distancing signage but Delta Air Lines was kind enough to place a few of its own.
Just before stepping on the plane, however, this Spirit Airlines-branded hand sanitizer dispenser awaited.
After a quick sanitization, it was time to board the bright yellow Airbus A320neo that would be home only for around an hour.
As hoped, it was mostly empty, making this short flight all the more enjoyable.
Row after row was deserted, a true paradise when flying during the pandemic; though, still a sad sign for the industry.
And even with the low passenger count, I was still assigned a seat in row 23. eight rows from the back.
Here I am in my aisle seat, in which I didn’t stay long.
The plane was only a month old and it showed. The seats were impressively new, albeit slim.
Though covered in faux leather material, I could feel just how bare the seats were as soon as I sat down and wondered if I’d last on a cross-country flight in them.
Seats are 17.75 inches wide with small armrests and no additional recline.
Legroom was similarly meager with 28 inches of pitch, well below the industry average.
The tray table was also tiny and I reckoned I wouldn’t comfortably be getting any work done on a laptop by using it.
Put simply, the seats were bare with no adjustable headrests, in-flight entertainment, or even in-seat power. Then again, I couldn’t complain at $US25 per seat.
For comfort, the “big front seat” offers a recliner seat similar to that in a domestic business class cabin. It doesn’t come with any extra amenities; though, a flight attendant told me that Spirit is working on changing that.
I couldn’t really stretch out but it was bearable for the 41-minute time up to Boston.
Once it became clear that there wasn’t going to be anybody else joining me in my row, I moved over to the window as the views on this route are not to be missed.
I was greeted by a friendly “howdy” on the sharklet.
There were less than 30 passengers on the 182-seat plane, and that’s after Spirit consolidated the two Boston flights into one.
Having so few passengers, we departed early and were in the air just 10 minutes after pushing back. Route I-95, the road that connects New York and Boston, was directly adjacent but its travellers wouldn’t get to Boston as quickly as we would.
The plane was so light that we were able to get airborne in just a few seconds after advancing to full power.
My eyes were glued to the window for the first five minutes of the flight as the sights were incredible. First up, Lower Manhattan and the Freedom Tower…
And finally, the George Washington Bridge.
It was only a few minutes until we were parallel to the Connecticut coast, soaring high over the I-95 and Amtrak travellers that would arrive in Boston hours later.
To my surprise, the seatbelt sign was actually turned off for around 10 minutes and flight attendants started an in-flight service. As there were so few people, however, it was done without a trolley.
Unlike the shuttle flights, there’d be no free offering of any kind as there’s even a price for water on Spirit. The only perks we’d get from the flight were the views.
New England in the fall is truly a sight to see, especially from a plane flying overhead.
We were preparing to land than a half-hour into the flight and Boston was luckily landing on its northwest-facing runway, which kept the flight time down.
Exactly 41 minutes from takeoff, we’d touched down in Boston.
It was just a quick taxi to the gate, past the JetBlue terminal, and then we were off.
In true shuttle-like fashion, I was on board the aircraft no more than an hour and a half from boarding to deplaning. Off to Boston!
While devoid of any frills or perks, Spirit provides an incredible value for money here and I even overpaid for my ticket as the flight normally costs $US18 one-way. Spirit, of course, isn’t perfect but a lot can be overlooked for that price on a flight that’s less than an hour in duration.
The plane was new, the service was great, and I got to Boston earlier than scheduled. For a simple shuttle flight, it was actually quite enjoyable and I would undoubtedly choose Spirit again when travelling on the short hop to Boston, especially when on a budget.
For a business traveller, however, the shuttle service from LaGuardia still has unbeatable perks like near-hourly service, an enhanced service offering, and dedicated gates. If in a pinch, the Spirit service will do just fine but don’t expect any frills unless you pay up.