Many people in the travel world frown on our favorite low-budget carrier. But Spirit takes us from Philly to Florida for only 5,000 miles, and they even fly to Central America. In 2011, we flew to Costa Rica on Spirit, and it cost us only $525.90, for the two of us, round trip (including taxes and baggage fees). We did have a small problem that, could have been a major catastrophe…
In order to fully appreciate the excellent customer Spirit Airlines and their representatives provided us, let me share with you the problems we had on our Spirit flights from San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) to Atlantic City (ACY) with a change in Ft. Lauderdale (FLL).
Due to a scheduling change by Spirit after we booked our flight, our connection window in FLL was reduced to just under one hour. Even though it was 5:30 AM, there were several international flights coming through FLL, and it took us well over an hour to clear customs. Now, it’s not Spirit’s fault that customs can take a while to clear, but the Spirit rep at customs was unable to convince the border patrol to fast-track us. (It was this situation and the fact that Amex picked up the tab that prompted us to join Global Entry, which allows us to soar through Customs.)
We needed to claim and then re-check our luggage in FLL. By the time we got through customs, one of our two bags had arrived, but the other hadn’t. Another plane (coming from Panama) was unloaded in its entirety before our second bag arrived on the same belt. This cost us another 30-45 minutes. This problem falls squarely on the shoulders of Spirit’s FLL baggage handlers.
Luckily, it turned out that our flight from FLL to ACY had been delayed, and was still at the gate an hour after it was supposed to depart. Which leads us to the next issue we had with Spirit…
We literally ran through the airport. My father-in-law, Barry, and I got held up at TSA screening. Stephanie ran to the gate where our flight was waiting and the door to the plane was still open. She begged them to wait five minutes for us to get through security. They refused, but reluctantly granted her two minutes after much pleading. When Barry and I arrived at the gate, the agent took our boarding passes and walked us down the jetway only to find that the door to the plane had been closed and would not be reopened. In addition, our luggage was already onboard and en route to ACY. I had a minor freak-out until they assured me that Stephanie was not aboard. She had run back to find Barry and me, and somehow we had missed each other.
This is actually my biggest problem with this entire story. I was very disappointed and more than a little ticked off that we were checked in and right there, yet they refused to hold the flight for 120 seconds so we could actually board. At the ticket counter, the agent told us there were no more open seats home for three days. We talked to a supervisor, and told her that her gate agents sailed without us, and she guaranteed us that we would be on a flight that evening.
When we got to the gate that evening, it turned out that we were given only stand-by tickets, and the flight was now oversold. At first it seemed like we were going to be trapped overnight with no luggage. The gate agents (Sonia and Elvin) spent a good deal of time trying to work out a solution. Eventually, they juggled several other people, and were able to squeeze us on, but we weren’t sitting anywhere near each other. After hearing our story, Art & Kathy, our flight attendants on the way home, juggled even more people, and eventually got Stephanie and I seated next to each other while Barry relaxed in the exit row. Fifteen hours later, we were finally on our way home.
After we got home, I e-mailed the whole tale to Spirit airlines customer service who surprised me by not only apologizing, but crediting my FreeSpirit account with enough miles for a free round-trip ticket.
But it gets even better. Not six months later I had over 20,000 Free Spirit miles that were about to expire. That’s over four round trip tickets. I e-mailed customer service, and a very helpful Corporate Escalation Officer named Fay helped to ensure that my miles stayed active.
So thank you very, very much Spirit Customer Service, and thanks again as well to Sonia and Elvin, Art and Kathy and Fay. So to all those Spirit-haters out there, don’t judge them too harshly. They can be a pretty good carrier if you’re not a fancy-pants luxury flyer. I know we’re gonna keep flying with them.