Spirit vs. Air Canada – Guess Who Won?
This past weekend was a busy one for me. I sort of double booked myself by not syncing my personal and business calendars. I needed to be in Ann Arbor on Friday for a business meeting, but also committed to spend the weekend in Edmonton with a friend so we could finally ride the classic Mindbender roller coaster at the West Edmonton Mall.
Eventually I settled down my plans to make this all work. I flew from Las Vegas to Detroit on Spirit Airlines on Thursday evening (where I scored my Hyatt Place suite upgrade), went to my business meeting on Friday and then flew Air Canada from Detroit to Edmonton via Toronto. If you would have asked me where the suffering would have been, I would have said with Spirit, but that wasn’t the case.
Spirit Airlines LAS-DET
Spirit Airlines flies direct from Las Vegas to Detroit at a fraction of the cost of Delta. While I did check award availability, there were no Delta saver awards, so I ultimately decided to book with Spirit given their flight had the best timing for me. To avoid as much chance of suffering as possible, I ultimately decided to purchase a Big Front Seat for $70. This seat is very much like domestic first class on another airline, except without the premium service.
Since Spirit flies from the B gates of Terminal 1 in Las Vegas, I opted not to visit the Centurion Lounge and timed my arrival pretty close to boarding time. I was pleasantly surprised to not only see my flight was on time, but that boarding had started early! When I handed the gate agent my boarding pass, she smiled at me and welcomed me on board. Wow!
Once on board things were similarly nice. Yes, I did have a comfortable seat in the front of the plane, but 29″ seat pitch in the back aside, the crew was friendly, smiling and they took good care of people. This was a pleasant flight experience all around. When we arrived in Detroit they thanked everyone for flying with Spirit and the captain came out to say goodbye to passengers as they left. Had I been in the back, I may have been more uncomfortable given the seat pitch, but it would have been pleasant. My cost to experience ratio with this flight was excellent.
Air Canada DET-YYZ-YEG
My Spirit experience couldn’t be further from what I experienced with Air Canada. After my business meeting, I headed to the Detroit airport and arrived at my gate about 15 minutes before the scheduled boarding time for my flight to Toronto which was “on time”. Then a few minutes later (about the time we were supposed to board), the flight info was updated and we were now 20 minutes delayed. I checked though and the plane hadn’t even left Toronto to come to Detroit. Liars.
As you can probably guess, they were playing a game and every 20 minutes they extended the delay over and over. Finally, the plane did arrive (about 85 minutes late) and before we boarded we were warned that there would be no air conditioning until takeoff. It was in the nineties in Detroit, hot and humid and they were putting us into a tin can with no air conditioning. We all thought this would be fine for a few minutes, until we sat at the gate for 45 minutes.
The passengers were on the verge of rioting when we finally were given notice that we would leave the gate. We then taxied, tookoff, the a/c kicked in and we were served a very warm drink in flight since all of the ice had melted. Ugh. It is a short flight to Toronto and when we landed, the a/c cutout again and we were informed that our gate wasn’t ready. After another 10 minutes of waiting to get to the gate and 10 minutes waiting to get off of the plane with no a/c, I was done. It was the worst short flight experience I have ever had.
My original layover was scheduled to be 3 1/2 hours, but now I had just 1 hour to make my connection. In this time I needed to clear immigration and re-clear security. Some airlines have an agent at the gate with information to help connecting passengers, but Air Canada did not. We were on our own and many of us had to run. Thankfully immigration was a breeze, but then there was security.
By this time the main security line had closed and the secondary line had 300+ people in it. It was easily an hour+ line. Luckily I have Star Alliance Silver status thanks to my Copa status match, so I managed to talk my way into the expedited security line which still took almost 30 minutes. To make a long story short, I got to my gate to hear the final boarding call. Had I not used my Star Alliance silver, I would have missed the flight.
The flight to Edmonton wasn’t terrible. It was on a newer A321 with IFE, although none of the screens in my row were working. Despite being boarded on time, we sat at the gate for a long time (no other passengers boarded) and were about 30 minutes late getting into Edmonton. During this time there was no explanation as to why we sat there, nor did I expect one given my prior experiences with Air Canada earlier in the day. Upon arrival in Edmonton I was wiped, but did get to enjoy the Mindbender roller coaster and other things that the city had to offer. My flights home on Delta were fantastic as well. Despite this experience, it was worth going.
Air Canada is supposedly a full service carrier while Spirit is a low cost carrier. I know of many people who have had great experiences with Air Canada and terrible experiences with Spirit. The truth is that on any given day any airline can be terrible if you run into the right set of circumstances. Still, I can’t help but fault Air Canada for a few things including: misinformation on flight delays, letting passengers sit on a blazing hot plane for 45 minutes and the lack of assistance in Toronto.
Either way this isn’t a condemnation of one airline nor an endorsement of another, but rather a reminder that with the continued devaluations of airline loyalty programs and the varied service that we sometimes receive, we should fly with the airline that works best for us, no matter the name, alliance or colors painted on the side.