I Flew the Spirit Airlines Big Front Seat: A Whole Different View of Travel

I finally had my first taste of the Spirit Airlines Big Front Seat. On my way home Chicago O’Hare to Austin after United Airlines Media Day I flew Spirit Airlines. I bought my one-way in a “Big Front Seat” (a domestic first class-ish seat without extra benefits) for $118.29. A coach seat on American or United would have been $225 and I’d have had to wait around the airport two and a half hours longer for either. Spirit seemed like a no-brainer.

There are some things that are just different about flying Spirit. Not only are there checked bag fees but there are also carry on bag fees. I’d only been gone for one night so I didn’t need a carry on bag, just my laptop bag. So I really was comparing apples-to-apples in price.

I also downloaded the Spirit Airlines app so I could do mobile check-in. Check in at the airport also costs a fee with Spirit. The day of my flight I went to check in and the app kept failing. I’d quit and start over again. This went on half a dozen times before it worked. There was no way I was going to pay for a boarding pass at the airport

spirit airlines app error

spirit airlines app crash

United had a bus that took everyone to O’Hare’s terminal 1 at the end of the event. I walked over to terminal 3. Another passenger on the bus was flying out on American, but the driver said “I was just told one dropoff.”

My Known Traveler Number was in the reservation, so I had PreCheck. When Spirit signed on with PreCheck that made it much easier for me to consider flying with them.

The other things that in theory should make them more reasonable to choose are that their operation has been much more reliable, and that they’re adding internet to their planes. The internet project was supposed to be almost done at this point – but not a single plane yet offers internet in commercial service. That was the biggest drawback for me.

The Spirit Airlines Big Front Seat doesn’t come with a meal, but the 8 p.m. American departure wouldn’t have come with one either. (Spirit doesn’t come with free snacks or drinks either.) It’s O’Hare though and I’m going to prefer a Tortas Frontera sandwich over anything the airline is serving anyway.

I eventually made my way to the very far end of Terminal 3’s L pier for my Spirit departure.

chicago o'hare gate L11

My boarding pass showed boarding 45 minutes out. They boarded 40 minutes prior to departure, but I didn’t need any overhead bin space so I made sure I was one of the last to board.

spirit airlines a320 cabin

Once on board I discovered that my Spriti Airlines Big Front Seat was just like the rest of the seats on the plane in that it doesn’t offer recline, or in Spirit’s parlance it’s “pre-reclined.” That cuts down on maintenance and of course for most of the seats is part of how they cram seats so close together. My seat belt was hidden under the seat cushion as well, the cushion had to come off the seat to find it.

spirit airlines big front seat

spirit airlines big front seat legroom

The flight ran 10 minutes late because our Airbus A320’s center tank fuel pump was inoperative. There were no announcements about a maintenance issue until we were underway.

During the flight attendant’s welcome announcement the cabin was told that they accept only electronic payments for drinks and snacks — and that passengers aren’t allowed to drink any alcohol they may have brought on board. Know your audience.

The flight was largely uneventful. I had brought my own bottle of water on, so I was set, I didn’t need anything from the flight crew. Forty five minutes to arrive they announced the “unlucky middle seat” 5000 mile drawing. And that was followed by the Spirit Airlines credit card pitch. They explained passengers would receive 1000 miles for their application even if they’re rejected for credit. Again, know your audience.

Once we arrived in Austin a woman two rows behind me got on her phone and called either a boyfriend or husband. She learned he wasn’t there to pick her up, and so she told him she’d be leaving with the guy in the seat next to her instead.

In the end Spirit Airlines – and the Big Front Seat – wasn’t just great value, it was better inflight entertainment than I’d expected too.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Thanks for this info. Spirit generally isn’t good for my domestic routes, but I was still pretty curious since the main thing I’m interested in is seat pitch and width.

    No in-seat power, I assume.

  2. “During the flight attendant’s welcome announcement the cabin was told that they accept only electronic payments for drinks and snacks — and that passengers aren’t allowed to drink any alcohol they may have brought on board. Know your audience.”

    Almost every airline makes this announcement: Delta, United, American, etc. In fact, it’s to the point now where I am surprised when I don’t hear it. But I didn’t hear it on Qatar or Air France on recent trips, though. So, it’s not just about knowing your audience.

    There is, of course, a US rule about this, but it’s ambiguous:

    14 CFR § 121.575 Alcoholic beverages.
    (a) No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage to him.

    Some commentators recommend bringing your own booze, and getting an attendant to serve you. But there’s no fun, er, profit, in that for the airline. Easier to prohibit it. Though I believe Jet Blue is willing to serve you your own alcohol. Not sure they are still doing that, and if enough passengers were to try, it could easily become impossible.

  3. OMG that’s amazing! The other airline cobrands should do that too. It’s a nice consolation prize and costs almost nothing.

  4. You can print your BP at the spirit kiosks for free. They only charge if you need to have an actual agent print it for you.

  5. What kind of approvals or certifications or business cases need to happen for carriers like Spirit, Southwest and jetBlue to start flying to Canada? I think they can really break the market here by adding competition in many routes. I know Frontier started flying to YYC, but I don’t know the details about it. Honestly, I’m not sure why a low cost carrier would pick YYC-DEN as its first route to/from Canada. Why not choose a route from one of the major cities (YYC included) to MIA, MCO, ORD, ATL or LAS?

  6. Yeah, we flew on the “BIG” seat a couple years ago and got stranded (due to maintenance issues that seem to be an ongoing problem with Spirit)at DFW attempting to return to MSY. Wife refuses to even try Spirit again due to poor treatment.

  7. “ So I really was comparing apples-to-apples in price.”

    Is this supposed to say “wasn’t”? Unless the fare from United or American you quoted was a basic economy fare…

  8. @Greg

    Delta does not make this announcement. Please refrain from just tossing Airline names into incorrect buckets. Can’t speak on the other airlines but as a FF on Delta I know they don’t.

  9. “… I know Frontier started flying to YYC, but I don’t know the details about it. Honestly, I’m not sure why a low cost carrier would pick YYC-DEN as its first route to/from Canada.’..”

    Duh. Perhaps because DEN is Frontier’s major hub.

    “Soar high with Frontier Airlines at the lowest fares when you fly from Calgary to 50+ destinations across the U.S. Book today for the best rates!”

  10. @Gary: I recently flew Air Canada to Europe and British Airways back. Both had announcements about not consuming your own liquor.

    @JamesP: Presumably the business case isn’t there or more airlines would fly to Canada. Don’t forget that a big chunk of our high airfares comes from taxes and fees which every airline would be forced to charge. I’m sure Air Canada and WestJet wouldn’t allow the new competition to go unchallenged either. They’d flood the market with cheap seats and drive the competition out. Remember when Virgin America tried flying LAX-YYZ? As for the choice of YYC-DEN, I imaging it’s because DEN is Frontier’s hub so they can connect people to multiple destinations. It looks like it’s down to 1 flight/week from the 3/week at launch, so presumably not doing well.

  11. Had my first experience with Spirit flying from NEO to Vegas 10/17. Having to pay for water and chips with a credit card stinks. The attendants were not the friendliest either. I was really over the hard core push to get passengers to sign up for their credit card. Not sure if I will fly them again. Who wants to fill in a credit app on a plane with stranger eyes at your side and behind you, not to mention the tray table barely could hold a small cup! No thanks!

  12. Air Canada to/from the US also had the alcohol announcement, I assume it’s really necessary for international flights where people are carrying their duty-free alcohol

  13. I flew Spirit airlines for the first time last week from Detroit airport to Atlanta airport my flight cost was very low it was very pleasant and the stewardess where very friendly..all my co workers told me about Spirit airlines I had round ticket to visit my children/grandson’s on the way back to Michigan the stewardess still friendly ..i truly enjoyed my time both ways..don’t mine flying w Spirit airlines again..thaxs guys for the great experience with Spirit airlines

  14. My brother purchased a ticket for me from DFW to JAx. Got stranded in Ft Lauderdale for 24 hours. Ended up paying for room till am and then rented a car. On the way back they tried to charge twice for carry on. Bottom line is cost me as much for me to get there as it cost my brother for ticket. Never again. Do not recommend.

  15. The only problem with big front seat is overweight people can’t sit in the first row. There’s no extension due to air compress seat belts. So only second row that’s has 4 seats

  16. I’m a frequent Spirit flyer and I generally upgrade to the Big Front Seat on my return leg. Don’t really like the “pre-recline” but the extra width and legroom (given my tall narrow frame) are appreciated.

    The miles are a pretty good perk. With good planning, it’s fairly easy to earn a nice vacation but you’ll need to join the $9 fare club AND get their credit card.

    I only wish they flew to Europe.

  17. I flew Spirit just once a few years ago out of FLL. My boarding pass said ALL Spirit flights depart from Terminal 4 at FLL. I went through security, checked the monitors, and my flight wasn’t even listed. I finally found a Spirit employee who said MY flight departs from Terminal 3!! I was directed to leave the building and walk to Terminal 3 where I went through security a second time and barely made my flight. This was both my first and last Spirit
    flight. Never again!!!

  18. @Jose
    Did you see where they fly to from, say, MIA or LAS? It’s not like all their flights go through DEN.

  19. Spirit is a great dirt cheap airlines. I’ve flown quite a few times on a red-eye from Sacramento to Chicago with a hour layover in Vegas. The round trip cost me less than a one-way on the other airlines non-stop or not. Sure any extras cost but since I have family in Chicago I travel light. I recommend Spirit airlines for a very affordable way to get from point A to point B. Also if your bag fits under your seat it’s free.

  20. Love Spirit and it’s my airline of choice. I fly it 6+ times a year without issues. I’ve only had great experiences in whatever seat I have. Some of their planes have smaller leg room but many are the same as any other airline. I had to fly United last Feb and wasn’t impressed plus I had to pay to check a bag. I’ll continue to use Spirit! The air fares are so low and if I want to purchase my choice of seat and purchase a bag, it’s still cheaper than any other airline.

  21. I have flown Spirit at least 20 times to and from Baltimore to Myrtle Beach. I love them!! Super cheap! Only take a personal item for free. Print my boarding pass at home or at hotel. Bring own snacks. Easy peasy. Flights on time.

  22. Gary, this was such a great story.

    You know your audience — and you knew your audience would eat this up 🙂

  23. I fly spirit all the time and pay only 32$ for the big front seat I love it the flight attendants are nice and helpful .I usualy fly to atlanta out of fort Lauderdale or NY .

  24. Well I only fly spirit period. I do not check a bag. Take 2 carry ones make sure size is as big as they allow. I buy snacks in the gift shop as needed. I get round trip from Tampa to Houston sometimes as low as $70 round trip – usually for about 6 months out of the year. Tampa to Cancun for $188. In the end if you know how to pack – don’t purchase one extra thing which means planning ahead. You can not fly anywhere cheaper. No the seats aren’t great. No the Wi-Fi doesn’t work. Sorry sales pitch. On and on. But I fly for the price of the ticket – PERIOD. The frills are there for them to make thier money. They barley break even on tickets. It the people who pay to print thier ticket – instead of taking the time to set it all up on your phone. It’s the ones who need 4 huge pieces of luggage. Need hard liquor and 5 snacks. Last but not least they need the huge front seat with a little prior preparation thier web site tells you how big it is and the functionality of it.
    All I am saying is for your budget if you want to spend your money on other things then spirit airlines is the to fly. Can’t wait till they finish opening up more routes. Nothing like a weekend vacation to Hawaii on the cheap.
    Take care y’all hope to see you in the skies soon.

  25. Too many people I know were burned on their first – and last – spirit flights so I have vowed never to even look at their fares. Your review has reinforced my opinion. Kind of like Wal-Mart – there is a high cost to the low price.

    And thankfully you did not experience irregular ops because I think this story would have a different spin.

  26. I’ve got my first Spirit BFS flights booked LAS-IAH and return for Thanksgiving.
    Sort of hoping nothing goes wrong, but it was half the price of first on United and a better schedule.

  27. I hesitate to write this because I want you all to Fly other airlines so there is less competition for me getting the Big Front Seat

    Just flew Spirit MSP to LAX on Saturday

    One way, Big Front Seat, one carry on bag was 1/2 the price as Delta coach

    App also didn’t work for us.

    As others have said, you can print your boarding pass for free at Kiosk

    Spirit is part of Pre Check

    At MSP, boarded on E2 which is inches into terminal

    Big Front Seats board immediately after kids. Boarding was 100,000x easier than anyone else because most people had no carry on (so less fighting for bins)

    Assigned seats And no carryon luggage meant far faster boarding than all other US carriers where people fight for overhead space. Don’t even get me started on Gary’s beloved Southwest

    People behind me were VERY upset when they saw how tight economy was. However, they were amicable about it in a way that only working poor people can be. They were upset but didn’t complain to the flight crew once. So I put on my headphones and couldn’t hear them
    This happens on American too

    Yes people were working class. I don’t mind being with the unwashed masses for 4 hours

    The seat is too vertical for me, but it’s so wide and spacious. I use a sweater as a lumbar pillow which creates a pseudo-recline

    I bought a soda using my Amex Platinum. ( I chose spirit as my airline). So drink =free
    Because few people buy stuff, drink service was fast and easy and no cart hogging up aisle for half the flight

    I didn’t hear the cc pitch (headphones)

    Worried about IRROPS? Buy Freebird. Costs about $18 and it gives you better IRROPS protection than Diamond, 1K, status

    Also, Big Front Seat is reimbursed by Amex Plainum as a seat assignment fee, unlike any other airline where it’s considered a higher class of service

    So please, cram yourself into some coach seat and pay a premium to do it Let your Amex credits expire worthless
    Pray that your status will save you when IRROPS happen

    I’ll fly for hundreds of dollars cheaper in the BFS and use Freebird

  28. We have used Spirit so many times, no problem, lots cheaper still compared with American airlines or other airlines. Do your math & compare with other airlines, including fees fir check in ,carry on, etc. Still Spirit cones out cheaper.

  29. I’ve been flying NK and their Big Front Seat regularly for over seven years….. not because of my love for the airline, but because of my love for their schedules (5:15 AM departure ORD-FLL, 9:45 PM on the return works great for me) When they offered the route, I used to fly ORD MSP three times a week….now doing a lot of ORD FLL and ORD MCO. Like you said, the fellow passengers offer great in-flight entertainment (and pre-flight…. I’ve had five people removed prior to departure in the past 3 months). Also, the lack of in-flight Wi-Fi gives me a great excuse to take a nap instead of doing work

  30. Saw you had bulkhead. Second row big seat has bulkhead big seat prereclined into it. Bulkhead far superior.

  31. In July I was offered a free round trip anywhere that Spirit flies, if I would take a later flight, and it seemed like a no-brainer, so I took the offer. In September when I tried to book a round trip flight from Denver to Seattle during the month of November, I was told there were NO return flights available on ANY day in November that qualified for the “free” trip. I don’t intend to ever fly with Spirit again. They could work on their customer service approach.

  32. The only problem I had with Spirit Airline was I had a carry-on leaving Orlando and had to transfer planes in Tampa. When I got ready to get on the plane in Tampa they charged me for my carry-on. ( which was $65 ) I argued that I just got off the plane with this same bag and they replied saying it didn’t matter. Never again will I fly Spirit regardless of the cheap price.

  33. Well I have flown with spirit about 8 times now .going again soon .have had no trouble ..my hubby flew in the big first seat. Was very comfortable and had no issues … will totally do it again ..

  34. Always fly Spirit to Myrtle Beach at least 4 times a year.Once in a while there is a delay.Always buy big front seat worth it to me.Flight attendants always courteous and friendly.Always great deals we own a place in myrtle so we don’t pay for luggage..We fly out of Boston off season Hartford in season.

  35. The first row of the big front seats is only good for skinny people. There air compress seat belts. No extension for overweight people. They didn’t mention this in the internet. I paid $40 one way for the seat. Got stuck in the last row. Not even a apology. They kept the money never again.

  36. AA nowadays is pretty much the golden standard of the worst domestic airlines. So basically the whole premises here – comparing with the worst domestic airlines, Spirit is about on-par or even slightly better..

  37. We love flying Spirit. Low prices keeps us coming back. We have had good service too. We dont care about snacks/drinks. We had so many delays, stuck with me mechanical repairs, on both Delta and United.

  38. Know your audience??? What does that mean? Hmmmm. Oh oh…you mean people who like a good deal or people who don’t think you should pay 500 for a IAH to ATL flight. This article was not informative to say the least. Did not explain the big front seat at all.

  39. @David Rodriguez – a bit late to the party here, but I think you’ve got a skewed view on who skinny people are. I’m 6’3″/240lbs and I’ve never needed a seatbelt extender. The fact that you can’t fit into a chair is a You problem, not a Spirit Airlines problem.

    Consider losing weight.

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