The do-it-yourself US airline: A review of Spirit Airlines on the A320neo from New York to Fort Lauderdale
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Easy self-serve check-in; movable armrest next to the window; fun and friendly crew.
Add-ons are expensive; the seats will wear you down on flights longer than three hours; absolutely no amenities to speak of.
We at The Points Guy aren’t shy about our love of luxury travel, from first-class flights to five-star hotels. We know that Spirit Airlines, the low-cost U.S. airline, is not a luxury travel experience, but last year the eighth-largest North American airline carried 35 million people. It’s a hugely popular carrier, but I had avoided it after my first Spirit flight in 2012. On 21 February 2020, my streak came to an unceremonious end when I was assigned to fly Spirit from New York (LGA) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) as part of a TPG project to determine which method of flying between New York and Miami is the best.
So, eight years later, how was my second flight with the airline that came in ninth out of 10 in our 2019 survey of best and worst U.S. airlines? You may be shocked to hear it, but I walked away pleasantly surprised.
Cheap tickets is the name of the game when it comes to Spirit but we were booking at the very last minute, so I didn’t get a bargain-basement deal like the ones you can find further in advance. And remember that the airline takes an a-la-carte approach to its pricing to keep its advertised fares low, so once you purchase your ticket, you’ll pay for just about everything else from your carry-on baggage to water on board your flight.
We paid a total of $258 (£208) for the one-way trip between LaGuardia and Fort Lauderdale. The ticket itself was $166 (£134) and taxes came to $25 (£20). Then, several days before departure, I purchased a window seat near the front of the cabin for $21 (£17), a checked bag for $40 (£32) and shortcut boarding for $6 (£5).
Before my flight, I had visions of long check-in lines, hordes of frustrated passengers and unhelpful agents. Those fears were unfounded. When I arrived at LaGuardia’s Terminal C just after 1 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, things were calm.
Spirit occupies one of the far ends of the terminal and there were just a few people checking in when I did. I had to check my bag, so I made my way to the kiosks to print my bag tag.
The kiosk was easy to use, with an intuitive interface and quick responses.
I placed my suitcase on the adjacent scale to confirm it wasn’t over 40 lbs. and moments later I had a tag on my bag.
I took my bag to the self-check station, where my boarding pass was checked and my bag was sent on its way.
I have a free Clear account as a benefit of my Delta Diamond Medallion status, so that helped speed the screening process. But even if I hadn’t had Clear, the security line was short — I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken more than about five minutes to get through.
I strolled through Terminal C on my way to the gate, passing the Delta Sky Club that I’ve visited frequently, and eventually settled down at the wine bar near my gate for a drink before my flight.
LaGuardia may be much-loathed, but Terminal C isn’t all that bad. Does it still desperately need a complete rebuild? Yes. But, all things considered, it’s not terrible. There are plenty of restaurants in the form of a food court and a few more eating and drinking spots scattered throughout the gate areas. And the free Wi-Fi was fast, with upload speeds of 171.99 Mbps and downloads of 73.48 Mbps.
But it’s here that I truly appreciated the value of an airport lounge: I ordered a glass of white wine that cost me $27 (£22) with tax and tip.
LaGuardia currently doesn’t have any Priority Pass lounges or restaurants, so your only options are the airline-branded lounges or Amex’s Centurion Lounge, though if you’re flying from Terminal C, it’s a pain to visit the Centurion before your flight, given the current construction at the airport.
Gate C42 is just steps away from the wine bar, so I was able to keep an eye on the activity at the gate while I was waiting.
I moved from the bar to the gate at 2:35 p.m., 10 minutes before boarding was scheduled to begin. However, the previous flight was still deplaning, so it wasn’t until 2:55 p.m. that boarding began for those who needed extra time. I was shocked by how smooth and orderly the process was. Everyone seemed to know exactly where they needed to be and what they needed to be doing, which is more than I can say for flights that I’ve taken with other airlines.
Cabin and Seat
This configuration of Spirit’s A320neo is equipped with eight Big Front Seats that have 36 inches of pitch and are 20 inches wide. But today, we’re here to talk about the seat that haunts flyers’ dreams: the Spirit economy seat.
Spoiler alert: They’re not that bad. Each of the 174 seats is 17.75 inches wide, which is not outside the norm for this aircraft type. (The A320neo is basically an A320 with newer, quieter and more fuel-efficient engines.)
And even though the pitch measures a paltry 28 inches, my knees didn’t feel particularly constricted because the seat in front of me was so thin.
The airline is taking delivery of new A320neos, and those are equipped with the same 3-3 configuration, but with middle seats that are slightly wider — at 18 inches — than the window and aisle seats which measure 17 inches wide.
I found my seat, 7A, and got settled. The seats are as unpadded as they look and offer no recline. I wouldn’t have wanted to sit much longer in mine, but for a 2.5-hour hop, it was fine.
The armrests were very narrow and short, but on this flight it wasn’t an issue since the middle seat remained empty. One aspect of the seat actually delighted me: The armrest on the window side of my seat was movable, as you can see in the photo above. This is something that I find myself longing for whenever I’m in a window seat in economy.
I could deal with the relative discomfort of the seat and was delighted by the movable window-adjacent armrest, but I was less than thrilled with the lack of a seat pocket. There was only a bungee-cord-looking solution that was only adequate to hold the airline-provided literature. I really don’t like keeping my bulky items in my pockets while I’m trying to get comfortable in a tight space, so the fact that I had nowhere to put the things I wanted to keep close to me (my wallet, AirPods and phone) was frustrating.
I also was not a fan at all of the foldable ledge that was supposed to serve as a tray table. It’s not even conducive to holding snacks and a drink, never mind a laptop. Luckily, the newer A320neos have larger tray tables.
For a short flight like LGA-FLL, the seat was adequate, but only just. If I had to fly three hours or so, I would really begin to miss the recline (however marginal) and a seat with more padding.
Amenities and IFE
This will be quick: There are no amenities. No at-seat power, no Wi-Fi, certainly no IFE screen.
The only source of entertainment is the inflight menu, which I read front to back and back to front when I found myself bored and peckish.
If I’d paid $100 (£80) or less for this ticket, I would have been just fine without the things that I’ve come to expect on other airlines — especially Delta — but at over $250 (£201) one way, I was definitely disappointed to not have power, at the very least.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
As you’d expect, you have to pay extra for any food or beverages you buy on board — including water, which will run you $3 (£2).
I was actually impressed with the selection of food and drinks, even if I did have to pay for them.
I decided on a small can of Pringles ($3; £2), a cheese tray ($8; £6) and an On the Rocks jalapeño pineapple margarita ($9; £7). Spirit also offers several combo deals that I spent entirely too much time agonizing over.
The only complaints I had were that the margarita was far too sweet (I should have expected it) and that it was an exercise in feng shui to get everything to fit on my tiny ledge. Luckily, I was able to use the middle seat’s tray as a place to put my trash as I was making my way through my goodies.
The service provided by the friendly crew was what I expected for a short economy flight.
The service I experienced on this Spirit flight was pretty much like every domestic flight I have taken in the last several years, which is a good thing. There’s not much to expect beside a friendly enough greeting and not-rude responses when asking for something during the flight. And that’s exactly how this flight went.
The crew had a bit of fun too, making time to celebrate a passenger’s birthday and giving him one of each of the On the Rocks cocktails to help start his vacation off right. That really lifted the service score of this review.
There’s no doubt that Spirit Airlines is a bare-bones experience. There are no priority check-in lines or airport lounges, and on board there are not even traditional seatback pockets or tray tables, never mind IFE screens or Wi-Fi. The 42-point score we gave it, compared to the average of 72 for domestic coach class, reflects that, particularly the lack of amenities and Wi-Fi.
But that’s beginning to change as the airline is taking delivery of new aircraft with more features designed to bolster the passenger experience. That said, I got exactly what I expected on this Spirit flight. Maybe a little better, in terms of service from the crew.
This particular flight wasn’t a great deal since it was booked at the last minute, but typically you can find unbelievable prices, especially on routes to Florida. For less money, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly Spirit again, especially now that I know what it’s like. Otherwise, I would fly with an airline I’m loyal to and that will offer me more in return.
All photos by the author.
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