It's not easy flying these days. What with airline consolidation, the boom of discount carriers, and the complete disappearance of the in-flight meal (what the hell???), flying the skies isn't all that friendly anymore. If you want some hard data on this, the U.S. government has been keeping track on the number of issues raised by consumers in complaints. This probably isn't going to surprise you if you fly a lot; maybe it will. But the number of complaints this year over last has jumped — and that might be thanks to our locally based Spirit Airlines.
The Miramar-based air carrier — famed for its low rates and hilarious ads — just began reporting complaints to the U.S. government, specifically the Department of Transportation's Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings, in January 2015. That government agency releases monthly reports on those complaints. The most recent report, which covers March 2015, shows a 55 percent increase since March 2014.
Spirit's addition to the report might have something to do with that. The carrier is already drawing more complaints than almost all the other 14 airlines covered in the report.
According to the March numbers, Spirit is sitting at the bottom of the list, meaning it has the second-highest rate of complaint. That month, 149 complaints were logged. In the same period of time, the airline saw 1,451,475 "enplanements." That's 10.27 complaints per every 100,000 enplanements. The only airline with a worse stack of complaints: Frontier. That airline saw 162 complaints for 1,022,979 enplanements — 15.84 complaints per 100,000.
How does this stack up with a good carrier? Well, Southwest had the lowest volume of complaints in the report. That carrier notched 58 out of 12,536,474 enplanements — 0.46 per 100,000.
Spirit's poor performance — and remember, this is the first year it's reporting its complaints — tracks with the other data collected this year by the government. In the previous report, for February 2015, Spirit again came in second to last on the list, losing out the basement to Frontier. Those numbers found Spirit logging 103 complaints out of 1,207,713 enplanements, or a rate of 8.53 out of 100,000. January's stats: almost the exact same story. Spirit landed second to last, with 102 complaints out of 1,276,472 — 7.99 out of 100,000.
Numbers, of course, tell only one side of the story. If you want to sample some first-person horror stories of airline mess-ups, head on over to Consumer Affairs. Right now, the site has the top 1,115 complaints logged against Spirit, including this one:
Was supposed to fly on spirit airlines on April 16th 2015 at 5:39 p.m. Spirit continued to delay the flight. Finally boarded at 8:30 p.m., sat on the plane for two hours before the flight was cancelled. My sister then sent me a posting from spirit showing the flight took off. Totally false. I believe the information that was posted concerning that flight was false and spirit should has some consequences.
Or this one:
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I sat at the airport for over 9 hours before I was informed that the Chicago flight was canceled due to weather. I asked the manager ** (her last name was not given to me) on numerous occasions are we going to fly out today and she kept saying we definitely were flying out. There was 3 flights that left out before and 1 after they canceled the Chicago flight. All the flights for the next day were booked.
And how about another:
When I went to print my boarding pass, my daughter's name was on the pass. I called customer service to make a change. They could not do anything. They barely spoke English. I called their corporate headquarters who said they would call me back, which they didn't. They did not care that I had a confirmation with my name on it. I was on the phone with them on and off for 12 hours. I ended up canceling the reservation.
The point here: air travel isn't like a fast-food burger joint. You can't expect to do a high volume of business, and, oops, yeah, there are hairs in a good portion of our burgers, but who cares? We care, hypothetical burger joint/airline, we care.