When Jared Feuer talks about the airline he calls “pretty important to me,” he raves about its new planes, its simple app and the cheap fares that allow him to travel from Atlanta to New York a couple of times a month.
That carrier: the frequently maligned, often-mocked, infuriating-to-some Spirit Airlines. The ultra-low-cost airline’s model keeps base prices low while charging fees for everything from carry-on bags to seat selection to water.
“They serve a really important role,” said Feuer, who works for a nonprofit. “I think people are just kind of a little bit elitist about it.”
As Spirit faces an uncertain future, Feuer and other fans are pondering what travel would be like without it - and hoping their go-to cheap airline will make it.
Spirit’s fate has been up in the air since it announced plans to merge with Frontier in 2022. That deal fell apart after a few months, and Spirit agreed to be acquired by JetBlue. But the Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit last year to block the deal; last month, a judge ruled against the acquisition, saying it would hurt consumers by reducing competition among airlines. JetBlue and Spirit are appealing, and Spirit declined to comment for this article.
“Spirit is a small airline. But there are those who love it,” U.S. District Judge William Young wrote in his ruling. “To those dedicated customers of Spirit, this one’s for you.”
Cue the head-scratching. Those who what it?
“There are no dedicated customers who love Spirit Airlines,” wrote one person on X. formerly Twitter. “Only a wretched path of heartbreak, fury and destruction.”
Bekyy Khera would disagree. The 32-year-old video editor loves the airline; she once wrote a piece for BuzzFeed with the headline “Hot Take: I Love Spirit Airlines And I’m Not Ashamed To Admit It.”
“They make the space more competitive so other airlines are cheaper, which I love,” said Khera, who lives in Madison, Wis., and has flown Spirit for years. She said that when she was in graduate school in Chicago, she regularly flew home to Florida for $45. Her best deal: a one-way flight from O’Hare to Fort Lauderdale in 2018 for $24.99.
“The money is definitely the big thing for me, but I’ve never had an issue with being uncomfortable on the flights,” she said.
Fans say it’s crucial to know what you’re in for if you’re flying Spirit: an “unbundled” experience with lots of a la carte options. A personal item that can fit under the seat is free, but carry-on and checked bags cost money. Also, the seats come with a “pre-recline.”
“Some people get, like, shellshocked because they didn’t read what should be common knowledge by now, that there’s going to be extra charges,” said Ray Haluska, 64, a semiretired medical transportation bus driver from Latrobe, Pa.
He saves money by buying his tickets at the small airport near his home and knows the dimensions of a personal item, as defined by Spirit, by heart: 18 by 14 by 8 inches. He said he probably took 15 flights on Spirit last year. The airline serves some smaller airports, like Latrobe’s, that don’t have many other options.
“I rarely pay more than $100 round-trip for a flight to Florida,” he said.
Jessica Pink, 27, of Denver, said Spirit allowed her and her fiancé to start traveling several years ago, thanks to $100 one-way flights to South America. Now, the couple have a group travel business called Travel World Culture where they lead trips around the world.
Pink said she is not loyal to one airline and always goes with the best price - but she likes that Spirit creates competition and offers stripped-down options for budget travelers. She said she can afford to upgrade to an exit row seat or a roomy “Big Front Seat” on Spirit and recalled meeting “SO many” friendly flight attendants on the airline.
“I can see that the seats and experience may be less comfortable than a full-service airline, but I truly don’t mind bringing on my own snacks and water,” she wrote in an email. “When the option is half or a third of the price, I’ll happily bring my own snack and portable charger. I think airline food and snacks are overrated anyways.”
The traveling public should hold some affection for Spirit, even if they choose other airlines to fly, said Kyle Potter, executive editor of Thrifty Traveler. The site highlights cheap flights, deals and other air travel tips.
Potter said competition from Spirit and similar low-cost carriers forces bigger legacy airlines to offer low-priced options, as well.
“It’s undeniable how big of a role these budget carriers play in driving down flight prices,” he said.
It’s not clear what lies ahead for Spirit. An appeals hearing is set for June in the Spirit-JetBlue merger, but the larger airline has said it is evaluating its options and may terminate the agreement if certain conditions are not met.
TD Cowen analyst Helane Becker wrote in a note to investors last month that she believes Spirit is likely to look for another buyer but that chapter 11 bankruptcy was a more likely scenario. Another analyst, JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Baker, wrote in an investor note that he was not predicting an immediate bankruptcy filing but acknowledged “that we can not reasonably identify a viable return to profitability any time soon.”
The people who rely on Spirit - and, yes, love it - are watching and waiting.
“I don’t want them to go away,” said Feuer, the Atlanta resident. “If they went away, I’d be very sad.”