Okay, so the title really says it all. Can a United guy find his Spirit? By now most of you probably know that I am a United/Star Alliance guy. Whenever possible I try to stick with UA or a Star Alliance carrier but I’m definitely not blindly loyal. If sticking with UA/Star Alliance means paying significantly more than I’m not opposed to jumping ship. How much more I am willing to pay to fly UA depends upon how many miles I would be leaving on the table otherwise, if I’m traveling alone or with the family (one ticket versus eight) and if the benefits of my Platinum status make it worthwhile to pay more. So, when I found myself needing to go to San Diego for the weekend, my first stop was of course united.com. When roundtrips on UA priced between $450-$515, my second stop was Kayak.com. A quick Kayak search revealed that Spirit (NK) had roundtrip flights between ORD and LAX for $178. Throw in a paid carry-on bag and four Big Front seats and it was a bit over $840 all in. Compare that with $1,800+ to fly United (with a dreaded red eye return flight) and the decision was clear. This United guy was going to see if he could find his spirit!
My one and only other time flying NK was in it’s pre-ULCC days when I flew them from ORD-CUN (via FLL) in 2004. I had a bit of trepidation about the strict luggage policy and rampant stories of late flights and rude staff but a bit of research and a few minutes measuring my bags and I felt like I was ready to go. At T-24, I checked all of us in using the relatively new Spirit Airlines app. While not flashy, the app was functional and within two minutes we all had mobile boarding passes for flight NK737, the 6AM departure from Chicago ORD to LAX. Thankfully Spirit now participates in the TSA Pre-Check program and all four of our boarding passes had that lovely green Pre-Check logo so things were starting well.
According to Flight Radar 24, our flight would be operated by N679NK, a brand new Airbus A321 that had been soldiering with NK for barely two months. Gotta love that new plane smell!
N679NK had come in from Ft. Lauderdale the night before meaning it spent the night chilling at gate L7 waiting to fly us to LAX the next morning.
A 6AM departure time meant a wakeup call at the God awful hour of 3:30AM. A quick drive down deserted highways meant that we were parking in the economy lot at 4:30AM. Yes, it was as cold as it looked!
Terminal 3 was definitely all hustle and bustle even this early in the morning.
I have to say that the lines at the Spirit checkin counters looked pretty hellacious. Thank God for on-line checkin and flying with only carry-on luggage. Tip: If you are flying NK out of ORD, either fly with only cabin baggage or get to the airport nice and early!
Having TSA Pre-Check meant that we could skip the equally hellacious general security lines. Looking at both of those lines, I was sure some folks would be missing their flights.
This yellow beauty was waiting for us at gate L-7. Now, I have to be honest, while I think all airplanes are beautiful, I am not a fan of Spirit’s new livery. I think the yellow looks a bit tacky and cheesy unfortunately nobody in Miramar, Florida asked for my opinion. If I had my druthers, I would have kept the previous white and blue livery but again, no one asked my opinion.
Having paid for carry-on luggage meant that we were in boarding group 1 so we were among the first to board when boarding was called at 5:30AM. This factory fresh A321 was going to fly the 1,744 mile flight in 3 hours and 31 minutes. “WiFI on Board”-No. A member of the “Fit Fleet”-Yes!
The cabin was nice and bright and you could definitely get a whiff of that new plane smell.
A new plane is nice but basic cleanliness still goes a long way. For a plane whose last flight was over 8 hours ago, there was really no excuse for the obvious lack of thorough cabin cleaning.
Dirty arm rest aside, the seat was relatively comfortable and the legroom was no doubt light years ahead of what the folks in the back would have to endure for the next few hours.
I love anything with two wings but when it comes to narrow bodies, I am partial to Airbus cabins (with wide bodies it’s Boeing all the way). This glass partition allows the cabin crew to keep an eye on the cabin while they are seated in their jump seats but it also means folks like me in 1A (or 1C) get to gaze into their baby blues for substantial portions of the flight.
Here is the Buy on Board menu which doubles as…
a route map (on the back).
They definitely seem to be pushing the combo concept but…
the prices seemed to be relatively reasonable and…
a la carte is an option as well.
The cabin crew bounced around the cabin alternating between greeting boarding passengers and chit chatting with one another. Like I said before, I’m not a huge fan of the yellow but I have to give NK an A+ for branding consistency and I think that the over coat isn’t half bad. Oh boy, am I starting to find my Spirit?!
Sitting in 1A meant that I got to peep my fellow passengers as they boarded the plane. It also meant that the window was a bit dirty which became problematic when it came to take photos and videos later.
We pushed off of the gate right on time and those IAE V2500 engines quickly came to life.
I know it’s corny but I kind of like the winglets that say howdy. Here you can see the terminal extension that is being built on to the American Eagle L-gates.
No matter how much I fly, I always quickly review the safety information card. If you doubted me, here is the proof. I actually did read it and yes, we are indeed flying on a Spirit Airlines Airbus A321.
With minimal traffic that early in the morning, we were quickly lining up on the active runway and taking to the still dark skies above Chi-town.
This is one of my favorite parts of early morning take-offs. Once you break through that final cloud layer, a beautiful sunrise usually awaits.
Sunrise from 35,000 feet above from flight NK#737, ORD-LAX. One of the down sides of seat 1A is smudges on the window from the gate.
The cabin crew kept the lights dimmed after take-off so that the majority of folks that were slumbering could continue to slumber.
I was trying to flight the Sandman off but as frequently happens, the Sandman took me down quickly. While my wife (in 1D) and I drifted in and out of sleep you know our 3 and 8 year old daughters were wide awake. When I finally woke up (probably somewhere over Colorado), I discovered that the cabin crew had given our daughters free snack boxes. I thought that was a really nice, hospitable gesture. I really might be finding my Spirit!
Don’t judge me! I didn’t raid their snack boxes, I just wanted to check out the contents and document it for all of you looky loos.
Flying west early in the morning means that the sunrise is chasing you for a good portion of the flight. If it weren’t for the dirty window, this sunrise over the Rockies shot would have been pretty nice! Oh well.
Flying with a three year old means making multiple bathroom runs. Even though there was a lav in the front, I had to be a good trip reporter and use this bathroom run as an excuse to check out the rest of the cabin. People looked to be sleeping pretty soundly despite the abysmal personal space.
From the right angle even an airplane lavatory can be pretty.
I will grant you that these ultra thin seats do somewhat buffer the fact that you only have 28 inches of pitch but…
for people above average height there is nothing that can make 28 inches of pitch comfortable.
Up front we were enjoying 36 inches of pitch and free food so life was pretty good. Now Spirit doesn’t have wifi, in-flight entertainment or even an in-flight magazine but with an I-Pad and the views unfolding outside of our windows, the four hours just flew by (yup, pun was totally intended).
If you can’t catch the registration when you are boarding, you can definitely scope it out while on-board.
As we drew closer to LAX, the cabin crew started to collect all of the trash and get the cabin ready for landing.
Here you can see the legroom in rows 1 and 2. This particular A321 had two rows of Big Front seats (BFS), though there are some that have only one row of BFS. While I would generally prefer row 2 because you can stretch your legs out a bit more, if your aircraft gets substituted with an A321 with only one row of BFS, you might end up in a standard coach seat.
Per Seat Guru, row 1 Big Front seats recline while row 2 Big Front Seats do not. Maybe the newer birds are different but neither row of BFS reclined on this aircraft. Are the BFS more comfortable than the standard seats? no doubt. Would they be more comfortable if they reclined? For sure!
With only a short 3 hours and 31 minutes airborne, we were soon landing at LAX well ahead of schedule at about 15 minutes before 8 in the morning.
ORD has descent traffic but I always enjoy a little spotting anytime I’m at LAX. Here a Hawaiian Airlines A330 is being towed to it’s departure gate.
Thought I was in Sydney for a second with all of this action from down under. Two Virgin Australia 777-300’s, a QANTAS A380 and a QANTAS 747-400.
It wouldn’t be Cali without a little early morning Eskimo action.
And of course Asia is in the house with 777-300’s from EVA of Taiwan and Singapore Airlines.
Another Hawaiian Airlines widebody, this time a 767-300 and of course a Mint JetBlue A321.
We passed a company Airbus A319 awaiting it’s next mission as we parked at the gate.
People like to slam NK for having three active liveries but to be fair it took UA and AA quite a bit of time to get their fleets uniform (I know, I know, they have much larger fleets).
Being in the first row of course meant that we were the first to deplane and just like that we were in LA LA land. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by my first experience with Spirit in the last 13 years. The app worked well, the aircraft was new and relatively clean, the flights were on-time and the crew were very engaging. Would the return trip solidify this opinion or would it totally erase my Spirit high? At this point, I was definitely starting to find my Spirit!
A LITTLE BIT OF CHILL TIME
A few pics from SoCal at Venice Beach.
I am a true aerophile and there are a million reason why I love flying. Top amongst them, you can wake up in bone chillingly cold Chicago and within a matter of hours be soaking up the California sunshine while you watch your babies trying to catch some air.
I say it’s because I’m terminally interesting, my wife says it’s just because I have a restless soul. Six of one, a half dozen of the other. One of my amateur passions is photography and I think this shot worked out pretty well with the seagull spreading it’s wings just at the right time.
Venice Beach on a Friday morning wasn’t too crowded.
Sometimes it even felt like we had the entire beach to ourselves.
Well, obviously not completely to ourselves.
It wouldn’t be SoCal without the waves or…
As someone who can barely swim, surfing looks fun but the idea terrifies me.
Gotta love childhood. Forget school, lets fly to the west coast and go for a run on the beach instead!
And of course I had to send this pic to my SoCal loving oldest daughter who was stuck in Chicago’s December cold (and school to make matters worse). Yeah, I totally framed that palm tree on purpose!
Unfortunately we only had about 52 hours in Cali and Spirit was kind enough to send me an email to remind me of that cold, hard truth. Again, at T-24 I checked in on-line and saved the four boarding passes to my Apple Wallet.
The ORD Spirit check-in and the LAX Spirit check-in were like night and day. No crowds or chaos here.
Since we checked in online and only had cabin baggage, we didn’t have to make use of the checkin counters but it looks orderly and people seemed to be processed quickly.
Thanks to Pre-Check we were quickly airside and at gate 54A where flight NK#730, the 12 noon LAX-ORD flight, was scheduled to depart.
Another Spirit Airbus A320 was boarding next door at gate 54B bound for Oakland.
I could catch glimpses of the front office crew getting everything ready for departure.
There was no direct view to gate 54A but I was able to catch a glimpse of N637NK, a 2015 built Airbus A320. Yeah, I definitely like the blue and white livery more than the current school bus yellow livery.
Thanks to our carry-on luggage we were again in group 1 so we were among the first to board. Little back story here, I was cutting it close. Our 12 noon departure was scheduled to arrive ORD at 6:02PM and I was scheduled to start a 24-hour shift at the hospital at 7PM, so yeah, I was cutting it incredibly close. You can image my relief when boarding was called at 11:30AM, all signs were pointing towards an on-time departure.
Again, the cabin was clean and presentable.
As the other passengers boarded…
I checked out the activity on the tarmac.
The bus to the Eagle’s nest stopped to pick some passengers up.
After checking out the safety information card, I…
checked out the advertisement for the Spirit credit card in the seat pocket.
I’m not quite there yet but the mileage redemption chart actually looked pretty reasonable.
As boarding continued, two of the cabin crew came to ask if my daughters wanted to visit the cockpit. Their wishes be damned, we were going to that cockpit!
Luckily they took daddy’s subtle cues and said yes. When we entered the cockpit, the pilots both stood up and let the girls sit for pictures.
Gotta admit, I was a little jealous. Okay no, I was a lot jealous! I wanted to take a pic too. The captain even invited my youngest daughter to touch the side stick. At that moment I had visions of the plane moving forward crashing into the terminal windows.
Aerophile fantasy complete, we headed back to our seats just as boarding was completed.
Doors closed and…
it was time to fly (sorry United, I had to borrow that). I breathed a sigh of relief when we pushed off of the gate seven minutes ahead of schedule. Barring anything unforeseen, I would be getting to the hospital pretty much on time.
Of course all safety demos on Spirit are manual.
After the tug disconnected, we…
made our way out to the active runway passing a Sun Country 737-800 and a JetBlue A321.
After a short taxi, we took off at 12:06PM starting the 3 hour and 27 minute, 1,744 mile flight back to the frigid midwest.
We took off over the mighty Pacific before doubling back to start our flight to the heart of the country.
No freebies this time (maybe we should have faked sleep). We decided to buy a few buy-on-board items and I used my United Club Visa to pay for them. I’m sure those types of purchases are tracked but I figured I would send a message. Don’t ask me what the message was or who I was sending it to. I didn’t think it out that far, LOL.
Soon we were cruising along at 33,000 feet.
Thanks to the little girl who’s head is at the bottom of this picture, I made multiple trips to the lavs in the back. Thats what you call killing two birds with one stone. Daddy duty and Blogger duty.
Legroom is still a tight 28 inches but…
the seat design did seem to make it look a little more humane.
I tell my wife all of the time, there is just something so cathartic and centering about flying. Gazing on the world from 33,000 feet just makes your problems seem so small.
About two hours into the flight the sun slowly started to set.
The phone games you have to play to keep a three year old occupied after a few hours.
The best sunsets are in order #1. From a plane, #2. On a beach. That is all.
Just like it takes the sun forever to rise flying westbound, the sun sets pretty quickly when you are flying eastbound.
The woman sitting in seat 2C had a traveling companion, an emotional support dog. The cabin crew kept an eye on him (or her) while the passenger went to the lav. My wife and three year old were sitting in 1A and 1C and my wife said that she was on edge the entire flight because my daughter kept trying to play with the dog between the seats and she had visions of the dog biting or nipping her dancing through her head. After reading the Delta support dog story, maybe she isn’t as crazy as I told her she was that night.
The sun had just about set by the time we started our initial descent into Chicago O’Hare.
The cabin lights came on and the crew readied the cabin as we started our final descent. Here you can see the BFS legroom in row 1.
It was a beautifully clear night in my sweet home Chicago and the pilot flying executed a wonderful landing. Welcome home!
So, did I find my Spirit? I would have to say yes. The flights were reasonably priced and the website was easy to use at booking. The app is rudimentary but functional and Spirit participates in the TSA Pre-Check program. The planes were nice and new and the crews were kind and professional. All flights were on-time (actually early) and I got there and back safely. What more could I ask for? I opened Free Spirit accounts for the four of us and if Spirit is offering a substantially better deal in the future I would not hesitate to fly them again. Thanks for reading!
While you’re here, check out some of our other trip reports:
Flying United’s Last Boeing 747! Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE and Part 3 HERE
Latvia, Rapid Detox and a Two Headed Dog Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE
Amsterdam, Exploring Sexuality in Holland Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE
Nigeria, Twinning and the Slave Trade Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE and Part 3 HERE
San Diego Comic Con, Freaks and Geeks? Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE and Part 3 HERE
Hajj, a Journey of Redemption and Forgiveness Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE, Part 3 HERE and Part 4 HERE
The Seychelles: Sun, Sickness and Creepy Crawlers Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE and Part 3 HERE