Friday, November 30, 2012

Venom to Spirit Air

Two weeks ago, my wife and I had a nice little fight about an upcoming trip to visit a college with my daughter. A big part of it had to do with Spirit Airlines being the only option for the trip. I hate Spirit. No, really, I hate it. I did not want to fly anywhere on this cut rate, cut service, cut dignity airline.

But we parents make sacrifices for our kids and I bit the bullet (lead side in my mouth but it dangit it did not go off).

The one and only other time I flew Spirit was to Florida with the whole family of five, including a toddler. Nightmare making reservations (pay to book a seat? really?). I had a cow to the supervisor over that one saying there was no way I would risk getting my family split up with their randomly assigned seating. He relented.

LaGuardia is a dump. Well, at least Spirit's gate at this old NY airport is a dump. Why was AirTran's and jetBlue's adjacent gates so inviting while Spirit's was dreary and crowded. Imagine getting the call to board with a stroller and everyone is already lined up clogging the path to the jetway door. Nightmare.

Anyway, I booked the flight for us earlier this month and was damned if I was going to pay for carry on luggage.  Why was it cheaper to check a bag? It takes more labor, not less. Same for booking seats online and not at the gate. After learning how much my daughter wanted to pack, I bought a roundtrip for one suitcase for $70. Yes, seventy dollars. You can see the price advantage for the human fare evaporating.

But eat this bird, Spirit, I am not paying to select a seat. They all suck anyway. I chose the random option and it was just as uncomfortable as the paid option.

So we get through security and sit at the crowded gate. Since I did not have a carry on I waited until nearly last to get on. Minimize the discomfort. But I am jumping ahead.

The guy at the microphone then got on to threaten (connotation intended) us that if your personal item did not make the size limit your would have to pay for it as a carry on. $100. One hundred US dollars. Would have been only $50 at the ticket counter, you dopes (well, that's what I felt he was saying). Same for a bag you gate checked, too. "No exceptions!" he bellowed. I took my coat out of my computer bag to make it look smaller. Yes, a totally relaxing experience fearing getting called out to pay more fees.

I am shaking right now as I just checked in for the return flight online but do not have a printer for the boarding pass. Will they charge me a fee to print it at the ticketing kiosk? I would not put it past them.

Let me be fair and say that the flight crew and the flight itself were fine. Smooth take off and landing. Nothing special in the air which is they way you want it. Such a contrast to the evil gate attendant.

We taxi out, wait our turn for takeoff and I notice other planes are passing us. We had pulled out of line and the captain gets on the PA to tell us engine number 2 will not start. It will take 15 minutes to get back to the gate to get it checked out and repaired. I prayed they would not make us or let us get off because that was a half hour minimum to reload the plane.

Now, mechanical problems happen. I cannot fault the airline - or can I? Do you wonder how these cut rate airlines keep prices low? I have no proof but isn't it possible their planes go a few extra miles before that next tune-up? Or they hire one less mechanic and stretch them thin? Notice, I did not question the abilities of the mechanic. The people, save for Dr Evil, are doing their jobs and I must assume they want to be proud in their work.

We arrive at the gate and the captain announces it is a "tow-in" gate.  OK, that's what it is. But then he said it would be five or ten minutes for the tow vehicle to get there. Excuse me? You knew 15 minutes ago we were coming back and you certainly knew which gate was available. Why was the tow not waiting for us instead of the other way around?

Employ one less to vehicle, Spirit?  Or was the driver loading bags on a different flight to save some salary?

It turned out the problem was minor and fixed fairly quickly. Finally, a break. But because the doors were opened, federal regulations required they give us the whole, "this is how you open your seat belt" schpiel again. The flight attendants could only comply. I tried to remove the wedgie I got as I slithered into my spider hole, I mean seat. We eventually took off about two hours late (for a 94 minute in-air flight).

Then comes the fun. Enter the sardine can. Perhaps some soybean oil would have helped us all squeeze into this completely overcrowded cabin. "Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight, we heard over the PA. Clearly, they were on drugs. I wished I were, too.

I measured the seat in front of me was 13 inches from my nose. So much for taking out that laptop. It was hard enough bending and folding my magazine. I hoped the person in front of me would give me a sign when she was about to recline her chair so I could protect my face from assault. Fortunately, I was on the aisle so I could stand up a few times before and during the flight.

Did I say fortunately? Unfortunately, I was on the aisle with my shoulders in the path of the flight attendant with the giant hips. The first time she went by, I appreciated her curves along with a slender waist, pretty face and nice smile. The next 31 times she rammed into me I was not so enamored.  Why couldn't the skinny one at the front of the plane take care of us back here?

One thing about me and travel is that we do not do well together. But I have learned to go into commuter mode with low brain activity and higher tolerance for the scruffy guy across the aisle coughing while his wife makes loud obnoxious saliva clearing noises into their toddler's face. I go into a zone of sorts, perhaps meditating but more likely resigning myself to a waste of several hours of my life.

We arrive at our destination and perhaps 20 minutes later I was able to finally get off the plane. No, they opened the doors on time. It's just that it took longer than I have ever seen for the people in front of me to get off. I could see it was because everyone was packed in so tightly that it took extra long to get out of their seats and extra long to retrieve their bags from overhead via contortions and excuse me's. Meanwhile scruffy was putting on his coat, draping it over other people, gathering his bags, picking up his infant and generally forgetting that his every move touched someone else. I knew a shower was in my near future so I left my commuter mode on. Did someone invent full body Purelle?

Finally, we made our way down to baggage claim. We were the only flight arriving so why did it take more than a half hour for the bags to show up? One less baggage porter? Less maintenance on their systems to get the bags to us?  You truly get what you pay for.

I will never, ever fly this $#!& airline again. No cheap fare would do it. No offer to upgrade to their fat seats for free (call it less bad class, not first class). In fact, the flight attendant came through the cabin with applications for the Spirit credit card (which I laughed at like Mitch McConnell to Timmy Geithner). The instant free flight incentive did not make me want to sign up. I did not want the bonus miles for some other promotion they had. They could have offered me a round-trip to the Caribbean with hotel and transfers I would not subject myself to the nickel and diming price structure, the worry about not following their rules to the tee and getting more fees. How much would a magazine cost me? Next I am sure they are going to go through with the fee for using the bathroom..

Think bout this - if they  want to fly to family vacation locations their idea to charge a la carte is ludicrous. Families must have baggage. They must book seats together, sometimes with a family member in the seat in front of the kicking toddler.

Did I mention I hate Spirit Airlines? I previously hated Delta the most but Spirit wins.

I'll close on a happy note. Mr. Scruffy's infant made a connection with the infant in the row in front of him. It was cute indeed and everyone around ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the pleasant interaction and distraction. What I noticed, and I could be wrong, was that Mr. Scruffy and family seemed to be religious Brooklyn Jews while the family in front of them seemed to be of Arabic descent. The innocent interaction between their infants was indeed a shining oasis in the misery that is Spirit Airlines.


Will said...

Thanks for posting Mike. A funny story with a nice ending.

-Will L.

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