The Worst, Most Uncomfortable Flight in America

Yesterday Spirit Airlines began flying Los Angeles – Baltimore. (On August 20 they will begin flying Los Angeles – Atlanta.)

If you’re not tall, don’t need the cushion of redundant flight schedules to get you where you’re going in the event of cancellation, and especially if you can pay attention to and avoid all of the fees along the way there are some great deals on transportation to be had from Spirit.

Seat Guru lists seat pitch, the distance from seat back to seat back and a proxy for legroom, at 28 inches. I always thought it was 29 inches. The US standard is 31 inches, with ‘economy plus’ style extra legroom seating usually around 34 or 35 inches.

Think about that: 2300 miles flown in an aircraft with 3 less inches of legroom than United, Delta, and American. One thing, perhaps, on a flight from the East Coast to Florida. But this is a true Spirit Airlines transcon.

That’s worse, I think, than my two previous contenders for the title.

  1. The cross country redeye. Alaska Airlines operates a Seattle-Orlando redeye twice a week. American operates a daily Seattle-Miami redeye. Hawaii redeyes to the West Coast on a variety of airlines. These are about the distance of Spirit’s flight, and overnight, but with more legroom.

  2. The longest domestic flights United’s Honolulu – Newark redeye (10% farther than Delta’s Honolulu – Atlanta and about 30% longer than New York – London). Hawaiian Airlines’ New York JFK flight is technically farther but people tend to like flying Hawaiian a little more. I’m not sure Hawaii counts in any case, though it’s technically domestic. And people are usually relaxed coming back from Hawaii, or looking forward to their trip enough to endure the flight there.

But Spirit can be cheap. And they’re running an Ariana Grande Sale, no licking required.

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, 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. While it is probably the worst in economy, the Big Front Seat is probably the best deal out there for a transcon redeye. I’d purchase it every time if they flew to LAX-NYC. I don’t care about a meal. Just want sleep.

  2. The longest domestic flights United’s Honolulu – Newark redeye (10% farther than Delta’s Honolulu – Newark
    I assume you mean Atlanta?

  3. @Andrew L-I totally agree. The relatively few times I have flown Spirit I have always “bought up” to the Big Front Seat and had a very comfortable flight.

  4. I’ve flown Spirit FLL-LAX in coach. I had paid only $40 all-in for the ticket! When I landed at LAX, I felt like I got ripped off.

    I agree with Andrew L about the big front seats. It’s the only way I fly Spirit today.

  5. “United’s Honolulu – Newark redeye (10% farther than Delta’s Honolulu – Newark”…huh?

  6. I guess to each its own!! If someone is willing to spend 2,300 miles on a Spirit plane they should know what they are signing for. I guess that is Spirit is offering this flight under their terrible legroom and customer service conditions it is because there is demand for it. Since this is a very long flight I am sure Spirit will find a way to charge for the air you will breathe inside the plane.

  7. @mark: LOL!!! I also found very weird the statement but my guess is that United may have a different flight path than Delta which increases their distance by 10%.

  8. When I saw this announcement, I thought exactly the same thing: this will be the worst flight in America.

    It’s been a couple years, but I have flown Spirit a couple times between the Northeast and Florida — never more than 2 1/2 hours. at 5′ 11″, I generally can’t put my feet straight in front of me on most Spirit aircraft (the discomfort factor differs a bit on their different airplanes). This makes for a rotten, uncomfortable experience, especially if the middle seat is full: I really couldn’t imagine doing it for 6 hours at any price. I can live with all the other nonsense that Spirit does, but I can’t live with that kind of legroom for 6 hours.

    Does anyone know what the pricing is on the Big Front Seat?

    Fortunately, the extension of Avios to the old US Airways network has essentially eliminated my occasional need to fly Spirit when, on short notice, the other airline choices would have resulted in astronomical pricing. That said, if I wanted to fly BWI-LAX, I would never do it on Spirit (unless paying for more legroom was viable). I would, however, see if another airline was matching the fare. In this route pair, I would expect Southwest to be quite aggressive in responding to Spirit’s pricing. A transcon Southwest flight isn’t great, but it’s a zillion times better than a transcon Spirit flight.

  9. Maybe I’m dumb but my thoughts…
    Spirit is kinda bad as the fees pile up but one good thing about them is that since they don’t do a regular beverage service the FA’s just come through once in awhile and sit down. It’s nice not to have to deal with the carts, FA’s coming through bugging people about trash, taking your cup of ice away, etc.
    Also if Spirit makes money on the “big seats” I’m surprised they don’t introduce a transcon like this with mostly all “big upfront seats” and make more money. They would likely still be cheaper than the legacy carriers.

  10. 28 pitch with the new slimline recaro seats is pretty common and is comparable to American and Uniteds 30-31 pitch with old school seats.

    The most uncomfortable flight in America is in the back of Americans 777-200s. The pitch is 30, but the seat design makes it so even my wife at 5.8 can’t fit in it comfortably.

    Just have to make sure we don’t end up back there 😉

  11. With flying spirit, my theory is big front seat or don’t go. I fly them frequently from dtw to rsw.

  12. American’s A319 has only 30 inches pitch and is most unpleasant – pretty close to as bad as Spirit but you pay more to fly AA.

    The AA 777-300 with the cramped 10 across Y seating is also horrid…on paper the pitch may be around 31 inches but the design and the narrow seat width aren’t good at all…and this, for generally much, much longer flights than the Spirit transcon.

    As noted above the actual seat design can make a difference even with a pitch measurement that’s theoretically the same.

    Still, I’m not in any hurry to fly Spirit for a flight length like that!

  13. To be fair, unless there’s been some drastic geographic shift that happened overnight, I’m pretty sure Florida *is part of* the East Coast.

    And you know Delta is operationally the better airline when they are not only able to fly nonstop from Honolulu to Newark, but shave off 10% of the distance from United’s HNL-EWR nonstop!

  14. Thanks, Nick. I was having the same thought: “Where along the East Coast does one stop being ‘from the East Coast’?” I live in ATL, and always thought I was flying FROM or ALONG the E.C. I’m pretty sure most Floridians do too. I guess he meant “Northeast?”

  15. I’d argue that UA’s EWR-HNL in some cases can be the best domestic flight in the US because despite being 5,000 miles long it can be upgraded with an RPU (on any fare) to international BF seats and although it is a redeye, the length allows for much better sleep than any other redeye (or even East Coast to Europe flights).

  16. @Eric – agree on the American 777s (and 787s) in economy but for the most part those aren’t on domestic routes which was the focus of this post.

  17. I just flew Atl-Jax in their supposedly upgraded coach economy C+ seat in the bulkhead row. I can’t tell you how many times I got bumped by people getting on the plane and then the flight attendants as they went about all of their duties. It was an exactly 38 minutes in the air flight and it was miserable. I’ve never flown Spirit but it really can’t be much worse and at least it might be cheaper than delta.

  18. I am 5’6.5″ tall and I LOVE ME CHEAP FLIGHTS! Tell them Spirit airline people to start going more places from Seattle! I don’t take luggage and have a very small carry on. I buy my ticket the cheapest way possible and go pee before I leave the airport. No drinks on the flight and I get there cheap! Good deal. a few hours in a metal tube high off the ground doesn’t differ much for me from one airplane to another because I won’t fly expensive!

  19. We were thinking it would still be cheap to buy three seats for two people if they are three across and the empty seat doesn’t pay baggage fee, or for drinks or air, just think about it as $40 to have extra legroom for two or room for another free small carry on

    (Or don’t fly them if they make you insane)

  20. @Kevin- I don’t know Spirits exact policy, but most LCCs won’t sell you an empty extra seat, because it doesn’t generate any additional fees revenue, which is how they make their money

  21. Oh come on guys. You still don’t realize in their weird reach around 3 piece suit world that Florida doesn’t count?

    To these guys Florida is just some place to leave their wives after drinking 500 Mai Tais and sleeping with the maid’s sister.

    Like a piggy bank with a big come on round the other side sign stuck on it.

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