Photo: Flickr – vnvlain
The old adage “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” held water on my cheap round trip from New York’s Laguardia to Chicago’s O’Hare. The trip was wrought with delays, extra fees, and an outrageous boarding process on the return that almost sent Los Angeles-bound travellers to New York.From New York to Chicago on Thursday night, I ran through security to catch what I thought was a soon-to-depart plane. When I got to the gate, I was told that an unannounced delay had pushed my flight back two hours.
Though I was glad to make the flight at all, I asked the attendant at the desk — which lacked a screen or any sort of sign announcing the flight status — what the reason for the delay was. He shrugged in response. I had to settle for the assumption that the slight drizzle of rain outside was the cause.
But my delay in New York was no match for the experience I had for my return flight. Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare airport at 3pm on Monday, I found myself at the back of a monstrous check-in line, with no personal kiosks in sight to help ease the crush. I shuffled back and forth for almost two hours and got to the desk mere minutes before my departure time, convinced I had missed my flight.
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“The flight to New York’s been delayed until 7:15,” the attendant said without looking up, referring to my 5:05 departure. Again, another sigh of relief that I would make the flight at all — but anger bubbled beneath the surface as I realised I had once again been told last minute of my delay.
The man behind the desk then looked at my shoulder bag. “How big is that?” he asked, eyeing it suspiciously. I shifted it further behind my back, conscious of the number of “optional fees” Spirit likes to tack on to their economical ticket prices: my check-on being too big might cost me up to $40.
“Small enough,” I replied, thankful to get away without being charged $5 bucks for my boarding pass.
(In a supposed effort to reduce boarding times, which have climbed to an average of 40 minutes per 140 person plane, Spirit Airlines recently began charging for carry-on luggage.)
Once inside the terminal, Spirit’s lack of screens behind their counters (something I had believed was an industry standard) caused mass confusion, as several delayed flights piled up at only two Spirit gates. Eventually, it was announced that the New York and Los Angeles flights would share a gate, with New York boarding first at 8pm, bringing my total delay time with Spirit to five hours.
When we were finally allowed to board, I waited a few minutes for the line to die down. As I walked up to the gate, I noticed the attendant’s utter lack of attention paid to my ticket. I might have had a boarding pass with Timbuktu as the destination and yet all she did was rip my piece of paper in half while looking out the window.
You can see where this is going. The line in the jetway was long and stagnant, and after a few minutes people began walking the other way, past us and back into the terminal. These were passengers for the Los Angeles flight who had walked onto the wrong plane.
The announcement had said that New York was boarding first, but with both flights scheduled to take off from the same gate, no signs or screens to alert people of the situation, and negligent staff, a mix-up was inevitable. We had to wait for the plane to clear out before starting to board again. A guy in front of me yelled, “I’ve been travelling for 33 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.” Agreed, sir.
What else is there to say? I can’t blame Spirit for the turbulence, and I’m even willing to cut them slack for the extra 20 minutes we sat on the runway after landing while Laguardia Airport found us a gate. But the fees for every snack or drink, including water? The snarky responses to simple questions from my fellow passengers?
At some point, “unbundling” all the costs turns even the most basic flight into a nightmare. Could I have paid extra for my flight to arrive on time and to not wait while they boarded two different flights onto one plane? How about an attentive care or correct security protocol fee?
I suppose I should have known better, considering Spirit Airlines grabbed the number two spot on the list of world’s worst airlines last year. But I guess it’s hard to believe a professional airline can be that bad until you experience it first-hand. Do yourself a favour and take my word for it. Believe the hype: Spirit sucks.