I took a flight on America’s Worst Airlines – Spirit and Frontier – to find out what it’s really like to fly on America’s Worst Airlines.
First stop on today’s ultra low cost trek across America was to drop my bag. Strangely, Spirit charge less to check a bag in than they do for carry on luggage, in this case $30 vs the $45 they wanted for a carry on bag. Once I’d dropped off my bag I got my dose of radiation and headed to the gate, where their garish monstrosity of a paint scheme was waiting for me. This one was delivered brand new to Spirit in 2011 making it 9 years old when I flew on it.
The gate was busy and they announced that today’s flight to the Party City was rammed full, probably as to be expected on an evening flight ahead of the weekend. Boarding’s quite a simple process, with just 4 zones.
It was time to go and I made my way down the jetbridge to the neon rocket to see what delights the next 90 minutes had in store for me.
The first thing I noticed was that the cabin was relatively smart. They have these big front seats that you can pay extra for, but I was doing this properly and headed down to the cheap seats in the back where I’d be wedged in for the flight to Vegas.
First impressions were, that, well it was a little bit snug. The seats weren’t too bad for a short flight but the leg room really wasn’t great. There was however a decent sized tray table.
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Before long, the jetbridge was disconnected and we started our pushback.
Aside from a planeful of party loving holidaymakers, a couple of rows in front was a party loving dog, heading off to the bright lights of Vegas.
I did have to laugh at a meme sent by a follower on Twitter just as we started our pushback.
We started our taxi and took off in a beautiful sunset to commence our flight east.
Our route today took us southeast out of San Francisco towards Fresno, before heading east towards Nevada and down into Las Vegas. Flight time tonight was 1 hour and 6 minutes at a cruising altitude of 33,000ft.
In an age of airlines trying to stop people from drinking too much on planes, Spirit seem to be going the other way with a huge range of cocktails and spirits to get you in the vacation mood.
The sun went down as we crossed the desert into Las Vegas
I tried to get a little rest but it wasn’t long before I was woke up by the onboard competition.
Before long the bright lights of Las Vegas appeared on the horizon and we started our descent into party city.
In Las Vegas you barely step off the plane before you’re bombarded with slot machines and flashing lights.
I headed down to the baggage claim and grabbed my bag, befoore trying to find where on earth I had to go to get my next flight across to St Louis.
I have to say I wasn’t really feeling it by this point. I’d heard such terrible things about Frontier and by this point I wasn’t looking forward to stepping onboard this next flight in any way whatssoever.
As the gate area filled, stressed gate agents shouted instructions out and I just wanted the whole thing to be over.
The inbound flight arrived and the passengers disembarked to begin their vacation, just as I’d had enough and was heading out of there.
Finally it was time to get on board and get out of this hell on earth.
I headed down the jetbridge to get onboard the Frontier A321 that would take me to the midwest.
Frontier’s seats at the front have extra legroom but are still in a 3-3 configuration like the rest of the plane.
I’d paid the extra for the hand baggage on Frontier as I had a tight connection in St Louis and didn’t want to risk having to wait around.
Frontier’s Airbus isn’t quite as cramped as Spirits, and although the seats don’t recline, they’re set to a pre-reclined pitch which actually makes them very comfy.
They do have these comically small tray tables, and, well, not a lot else. They’re probably the most basic seat I’ve seen on a commercial plane.
It was interesting to see an RAF tanker parked up, that was in Nevada for a military exercise that was taking place.
Our route tonight took us east out of Vegas to cross Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Kansas before commencing our descent into St Loui Missouri. Flight time tonight was 2 hours 47 minutes at a cruising altitude of 39,000ft.
I woke up as the sun was starting to rise in the east.
So here’s the important bit. How much did my little jaunt across the US cost?
Let’s start with Spirit. Their base fare was just $56. The seat reservation cost me $11 and the bag $30, giving a total price of $97, or £78.66, for a flight of 407 miles. United Airlines from San Francisco to Las Vegas costs £68 with a carry on included, making Spirit £10 more expensive than United.
Frontier were just 3 dollars more on the base fare, for a flight of over three times the distance at 1300 miles. But their fees for extras were extortionate – $31 for the seat reservation and a whopping 42 dollars to take hand baggage onboard, meaning the seat and the bag cost more than the flight ticket. But even with these expensive extras the total fare was just $132, or £106. A quick search showed United on the same route was £14 more expensive at £120 with a carry on, but includes a change of plane in Denver.
It’s very clear that by the time you’ve paid for a bag and a seat reservation the low cost options of Spirit and Frontier aren’t that much cheaper than the mainline airlines. But on the other hand they don’t offer any less than the mainline airlines. you have to pay for food, like the mainline airlines. You don’t get airmiles, just like the mainline airlines, on their cheapest fares at least.
I found the service onboard to be perfectly acceptable. The crew were really nice, the seats weren’t too uncomfortable even for someone of my height – and on Frontier the seats were positively amazing for economy. The fixed recline is a brilliant idea and gives you a lot more room. And most importantly, I’d travelled 1700 miles across America for less than 200 quid.
Just why do people hate Spirit and Frontier? I honestly came no closer to finding out on this trip. I’d love to hear your thoughts down in the comments, why do you think these airlines such a bad name?