There’s an old saying in Mexico that “lo barato sale caro,” which roughly translates to “what’s cheap turns out to be expensive” and carries the same general warning of that English phrase “you get what you pay for.”
I recently flew with my daughter on Spirit Airlines from Washington International Thurgood Marshall in Baltimore to Dallas-Fort Worth International, and I discovered that, when it comes to airlines, not only does the barato sale caro, but you don’t even get what you pay for.
To begin with, Spirit, which is known as the barebones airline that nickels and dimes you to death (they even charge additional fees for water, boarding passes and checking in) provides the shortest pitch in the industry (the company’s legroom is a limited 28 inches, compared in the economy standard of between 30 and 33 inches).
I should mention here that on this mean-spirited carrier, unless you pay an additional fee for your choice of seats, you end up playing a game of Russian roulette lottery as to where you will end up sitting.
And should you opt to forgo that additional fee, you are pretty much guaranteed to be separated from your flying companions and wedged into a tight middle seat between a paid-for tight aisle and equally tight paid-for window seat.
Having long legs and a loathing for tight spaces, I paid an extra $100 for me and my daughter to upgrade to the “luxury” of Spirit’s Big Front Seats, with an extravagant 36-inch pitch (still no food, water, luggage or blankets included in the price).
The flight was just over three hours, so I figured we could manage the discomfort of an airlines that has zero amenities and no reclining seats in exchange for not having to drive to Dulles International from her home in Baltimore.
Every item brought on board over the size of a small purse or laptop case is counted as a carry-on and is charged an additional fee, so my daughter and I opted for one checked baggage (that was $49) and one small carry-on bag ($57).
Since Sprit is known for being the over-weight Nazis of the unfriendly skies, we were extremely careful to keep our suitcase below the standard 23 kilos allowed in economy class.
But when we arrived at check-in (another additional fee), we discovered that Spirit only allows you to carry 18 kilos in your suitcase, a fact that they somehow forgot to mention on their booking website.
So, yes, there was yet one more additional fee to pay.
In short, there were fees tagged on all along the way to the boarding gate, where we finally we allowed to embark, only to discover that our paid-for-in-advance Big Front Seats were neither big nor in the front.
In fact, we were shoved into one of Spirit’s random window and middle seats.
I immediately brought this to the attention of the flight attendant, who took our tickets and said that she would contact the airlines and make sure that we were reimbursed for the extra $100 we paid for the “luxury” seats.
Since I did not later receive a refund credit to my American Express card, I tried several times in vain to contact Spirit over the telephone, only to be placed on hold for up to two hours each time.
I am still waiting for my refund and have contacted American Express, hoping that they can sort out the mess.
As for me flying Spirit again, not going to happen.
We returned to Baltimore via United (AKA, the board-as-a-doctor-debark-as-a-patient carrier), where, much to my surprise, the service was extraordinary, the pitch was long and they even handed out free drinks and food in economy.
And, the cost for the return flight turned out to be about half what we paid to fly to Dallas on Spirit.
I also flew United to Baltimore from Mexico and back and was amazed how attentive and friendly the flight attendants were.
I guess Oscar Munoz learned his lesson (and we all owe a debt of gratitude to David Dao).
I know I learned my lesson.
United may have its flaws, but it still has friendlier skies than the likes of Spirit.
As I said before, lo barato sale caro.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]