American ultra-low-cost Spirit Airlines takes the top spot for the most customer complaints in the industry. Dubbed ‘America’s worst airline,’ Spirit Airlines fights a run of negative publicities daily. Why does the carrier garner public attention mostly for wrong/negative reasons? Why is Spirit Airlines so bad?
Over the years, the Florida-based carrier has received a lot of criticism over several issues. Most issues revolve around notoriously uncomfortable planes, poor customer service, high cancellation rates, hidden fares, etc. In this article, we’ll discuss the biggest categories of customer complaints for Spirit Airlines.
Before outlining the major sources of complaints, let’s have a quick overview of Spirit Airlines and its business model.
Spirit Airlines is a ‘no-frills’ budget carrier offering a stripped-down flying experience at extremely low prices. With over 30 million annual passengers, it is the seventh-largest airline in the US. It has made inroads in the US air market by radically cutting fares in exchange for sacrificing traditional airline amenities.
The carrier’s ultra-low-cost formula allows passengers to purchase tickets at rock-bottom prices. However, the price of that ticket only includes a random cramped seat and one personal item. The costs of baggage and other optional add-ons are unbundled to keep fares low. Excluding a bare-bone slim seat and a small backpack, Spirit imposes an extra fee for just about everything.
Why is Spirit Airlines so bad?
We’ve outlined some of the major issues that have given Spirit Airlines a bad reputation over the years.
1. Unreliable flight schedule
The biggest complaint category for Florida-based ULCC is unreliable flight schedules. Spirit Airlines has logged hundreds of customer complaints about flight cancellations and delays.
Many flyers have expressed their disappointment over Spirit’s flight cancellations without adequate compensation. In some cases, passengers could easily be stranded somewhere for an extra day or two if the flight got canceled. Most other airlines tend to address flight cancellation issues by rebooking, affecting passengers on a later flight, or providing accommodations. But Spirit Airlines doesn’t fare well in this matter.
Let’s put the flight cancellation issue at bay for now and look at Spirit’s on-time performance. According to DOT’s full-year performance data for major carriers in 2022, 73.0% of Spirit flights were on-time. The ULCC ranked seventh for the highest on-time arrival rate in 2022 among major US airlines.
While the carrier’s on-time performance has slightly improved compared to previous years, it still is not enough. Spirit Airlines needs to work more on offering more on-time arrivals.
2. Refund issue
Another reason ‘Why Spirit Airlines is so bad’ has to do with refunds. The carrier is deemed inflexible concerning flight changes or cancellations. Firstly, with its ultra-low-cost model, the carrier only offers low-priced non-refundable fares on the ticket. Secondly, while its website mentions that guests canceling the reservation within 24 hours or less for flights seven or more days away are eligible for a full refund, nowhere does it mention the possibility of getting a refund for a canceled flight.
When you cancel a Spirit Airlines flight, the carrier may inadvertently charge other fees besides cancellation fees. The other issue is the refund processing time, where the carrier has failed to make timely handling of refunds.
Moreover, the worst scenario is the airline canceling flights due to weather or technical issue and not giving refunds to customers. Some passengers complained about not getting refunds or alternative travel arrangements when the airline canceled the flights. Many others have complained about getting the original ticket amount refunded after several days, minus any reimbursements.
3. Hidden fees
The amount of fees ultra-low-cost Spirit Airlines charges for every little thing is just crazy. The bare fare of the carrier entitles passengers to a seat and a backpack, and the rest of the other services are premium. Customers must pay extra for just about everything from a glass of water to checked luggage.
To ensure low ticket prices, Spirit imposes separate fees for additional services, like checked bags, priority boarding, food, etc. Its rock-bottom ticket pricing policy puts passenger choice at the barest minimum. Even a seat selection incurs a certain fee to offset the carrier’s bare-bone fares.
Spirit Airlines is a go-to airline for passengers who accept the bargain of paying cheap airfare for no-frills air travel. But those who want a little bit more when they travel must notice that the optional add-ons can add up quickly.
The ‘You get what you pay for’ rule applies so well in the case of Spirit Airlines flights. Sometimes, the passengers who bundle certain aspects of flight on Spirit Airlines end up paying more than what a legacy carrier economy ticket would cost. The hidden fees of unbundled travel-enhancing options like priority boarding, checked bags, food, etc., make the experience with Spirit unpleasant.
4. Notoriously uncomfortable planes
‘Why is Spirit Airlines so bad’ also concerns the carrier’s notoriously uncomfortable planes. Since the low base fares don’t bring in much revenue, the other option is to cram more people into the plane. The seats have shrunk, and passengers struggle to fit in the limited space.
Spirit basically fits the whole aircraft with a one-class layout of economy seats that can’t recline and lack padding. The slim, standard economy seats are tight for many adults, with just 17.75 inches of width and 28 inches of space between rows (seat pitch). The cheek-to-cheek jostle, knees pressed up against the seat, crossed-armed sitting—welcome to Spirit Airlines economy.
The uncomfortable, cramped economy seats don’t offer enough legroom or personal space. There is no privacy as passengers invade each other’s personal space due to squeezed seat pitch and width. Narrowed seats results are midair conflicts, sore knees, and unpleasant flying experiences.
Spirit Airlines, who appreciate the value of extra legroom, can book ‘Big Front Seats,’ which again requires extra hundred bucks. The ‘Big Front Seats’, located at the front of the plane, are relatively spacious with 36 inches of pitch and 18.5-inch width.
5. No inflight amenities or services
On top of cramped seats, the lack of inflight amenities and services also contributes to an unpleasant onboard experience with Spirit Airlines. Although the ULCC offers Wi-Fi service on Airbus A320 and A321 fleet, the internet connectivity doesn’t come for free. The carrier charges a minimum of $2.99 for the Browsing Plan, which offers slow-speed internet and low-resolution video quality of up to 240p.
The Streaming Plan, which starts at $5.99, has speeds of 7-10Mbps and supports resolution up to 240p. Depending on the flight duration, the Streaming plan may go as high as $15-$16 on longer flights.
Spirit passengers who want entertainment onboard should download their music, podcasts, or movies on devices beforehand. Spirit Airlines planes have no in-flight entertainment screens, in-seat charging ports, and power outlets.
Any kinds of refreshments or snacks on a flight are non-complimentary. Even a bottle of water will set you back certain bucks.
Bottom line: Why is Spirit Airlines so bad?
The ultra-low-cost business model itself contributes to Spirit Airlines’ bad reputation (people generally don’t like budget carriers). But, it’s not just minimal amenities or services that many customers are upset about most often. There are combinations of factors/ issues that have made Spirit Airlines a least-favorite airline for travel in the US. These include unreliable flight schedules (cancelations and delays), refund issues, hidden fees, cramped seats, and poor services.
Although Spirit Airlines is the recipient of most customer complaints in the US, passengers haven’t stopped flying with them. In fact, no. of customers that take to the skies with Spirit Airlines is increasing every year. Despite a slew of negative publicities, Spirit continues to reach new customers on the back of its low-cost pricing. The fares of the discount carrier are undoubtedly among the lowest in US commercial aviation market.
Is the cheap airfare of Spirit Airlines worth the hassle?
No airline can deliver 100% in-flight performance, passenger service, and customer satisfaction. Even the legacy carriers like American Airlines, Delta, United, etc., experience issues such as delays, cancellations, and customer complaints.
The affordable airfares of Spirit Airlines have opened air travel to a large swath of the public. No wonder people have become sophisticated; most travelers still prefer discounted travel deals.
But is the cheap airfare of Spirit Airlines worth the hassle? Well, it is; you are okay with flying cheap without add-ons and frills of other services and don’t have the pressure of reaching your destination on time. By flying in an uncomfortable seat for a few hours, you can spend your extra dollar bills on enjoying yourself at the destination.
On the contrary, the cheap airfare of Spirit Airlines may not be worth it if:
You must reach the destination at a specified time and can’t risk missing flights or reaching late
You place more value on inflight experience or want to make flying a happy memory