What is the greatest American airline? Some might argue United, though chances are they’re the ones who haven’t been dragged off after a seating mix-up. Others appreciate Delta for their posturing over Georgia’s voting law — because there’s nothing like being hectored about The Literal End of Democracy from 30,000 feet. If you’re nails-down-a-chalkboard irritating, you might just love Southwest for the cabin crew’s open-mic-night-at-the-Comedy-Cellar patter.
All of you are plane wrong. The correct answer is Spirit Airlines. For too long has Spirit been the punchline of hastily written Saturday Night Live jokes. This airline is unapologetically true to itself. With its yellow and black hazard-tape branding, Spirit is for flyers who like to live dangerously. It will take you from your city’s least convenient airport (hello, BWI) to an aggressively trashy vacation resort without breaking a $100 bill. Close your eyes: Fort Myers, Florida is waiting.
The Spirit experience is akin to flying PanAm in the Sixties or Concorde in the Seventies. Admittedly I am a devoted disciple of American Schlock — I prefer the Venetian in Vegas to Venice in Italy because it smells better and the skies are clearer — but I can’t be alone in appreciating aviation’s answer to the TracFone. The 2020s so far have been defined by antsiness, viral spread and alcoholism. Does any plane suit that mood quite like the jaundiced, jammed Spirit Airbus?
The inflight menu knows you and why you are there: two of its three sides list alcoholic beverages. You can get through two Bloody Marias in the time it takes to get to Myrtle Beach — trust me. With airlines like Emirates or Virgin, you get the sense that the flight attendants have been hired for their looks above all else, which of course is incredibly outdated and demeaning. But not Spirit! The Spirit stewardess is solid, ruddy and battle-hardened. Chances are she knows at least four judo holds and has employed them all in the line of duty. She is as versed in Krav Maga as she is in cocktail-mixing. Cross her at your peril.
A Google search throws up the following suggested questions: ‘What’s wrong with Spirit Airlines?’ ‘Is flying Spirit safe?’ and ‘What’s the cheapest day to fly on Spirit?’ Allow me to answer all three: absolutely nothing, safer than Malaysian Airlines, all of them.
Many of the issues passengers have with Spirit are industry-wide. Yes, they charge extra to check your bags. Yes, Spirit took CARES Act money and then laid off some of its staff. And sure, sometimes you get delayed. But you’ve bought your ticket for the same price as two beers at a Manhattan hotel — and you’ve drunk four on your flight.
It may not seem like it when you’re slumped in a seat around the corner from Gate C37 of La Guardia — for many years the only gate the airline was permitted to use — but by flying Spirit you are participating in the realization of the American Dream. I’ll save you a seat. Sorry, there’s no room in the overhead bins.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s July 2021 World edition.