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airline airplane forbidden no fly zone signEvery airline has its haters. Maybe you’re still holding a grudge against Delta for losing your bag back in 2003, or you can’t get over that time Aeroflot literally stranded you in Siberia. In fact, the whole airline industry rated lower than the IRS in a recent U.S. customer satisfaction survey.

But in the airline hall of shame, a couple of carriers truly stand apart. Ultra-discounters Spirit Airlines (based in Florida) and Ryanair (which flies across Europe) make headlines as often for their bad behavior as for their eye-poppingly low fares. From tasteless ad campaigns to an endless parade of fees, these airlines seem to be trying to outdo each other in a race to the bottom — with no end in sight. Who’s the worst offender? We’ll let you decide.

Egregious Fees
Spirit: The airline’s most recent money-grubbing venture is a $5 fee to print your boarding pass at the airport. (Seriously? How much does a piece of paper and a little ink cost?) And it’s the only airline in the U.S. to charge not only for checked bags but for carry-ons as well. Plan on paying $18 – $43 for a first checked bag, $25 – $50 for a second and $20 – $45 for a carry-on, depending on where you’re going, how you pay for the bag (online or at the airport) and whether you’re a member of the $9 Fare Club.

Ryanair: The Irish airline imposes so many extra charges that its home page features a handy “Fees” link at the top, right between “Contact Us” and “General Conditions.” The link takes you to a lengthy chart detailing such costs as an Infant Fee (20 GBP each way), a labyrinthine system of checked baggage fees (15 – 45 GBP depending on the weight of your bag and whether you’re flying peak or off-peak) and an Administrative Fee of 6 GBP that’s charged to every booking except those paid for with a MasterCard prepaid debit card. The airline has even considered charging to use onboard toilets.

Biggest Offender: Spirit by a nose. (At least until Ryanair starts making us pay to pee.)

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Offensive Ads
Spirit: Any press is good press, right? Spirit sure thinks so. Over the years its promotions have frequently been decried in the media as tasteless or downright offensive. “We’re no Virgin! We’ve been cheap and easy for years,” proclaimed one 2009 fare sale (competing with Virgin America). More recently, the airline poked fun at the demise of the Schwarzenegger-Shriver marriage with “fares so low, you can take the whole family! Including the half-brother you just met.” But perhaps the worst offender was the following, in response to the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill:

spirit airlines check out the oil on our beaches



Ryanair: Ryanair has done its share of cheeky advertising, bringing it into frequent conflict with the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The watchdog agency banned the following 2008 ad, saying that it “appeared to link teenage girls with sexually provocative behaviour and was irresponsible and likely to cause serious or widespread offence.” Ya think?

ryanair ad hottest back to school fares



Biggest Offender: Spirit.

Bare-Bones Flights
Spirit: Forget complimentary water or peanuts — you’ll have to pay for every snack or beverage aboard a Spirit flight. And you’d better bring your own entertainment as well. Spirit offers no Internet, movies, TV or music.

Ryanair: Like Spirit, Ryanair charges for beverages and snacks, and offers no in-flight entertainment.

Biggest Offender: Tie.

Crummy Customer Service
Spirit: IndependentTraveler.com reader Richard Rosichan was a loyal frequent flier on Spirit until last year, when a poorly handled flight cancellation had him taking the airline to small claims court. Rosichan isn’t alone in his displeasure: Spirit is rated only 3.3 out of 10 on airline review site AirlineQuality.com.

Ryanair: Ryanair scores even lower on AirlineQuality.com — 2.4 out of 10, based on nearly 1,000 reviews. Disenchanted fliers can hook up with other haters at Facebook.com/ryanairsux, which currently has 505 fans.

Biggest Offender: Ryanair.

The Real Reason Fliers Hate the Airlines

Outrageous Comments by Senior Management
Spirit: CEO Ben Baldanza made waves in 2007 when he hit “reply all” instead of “reply” on a customer service complaint that had been forwarded to him, inadvertently sending the following message to both his own employees and the offended passenger: “Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.” Oops!

Ryanair: Head honcho Michael O’Leary is famous for speaking his mind, describing himself in 2006 as “just an obnoxious little bollocks” (it’s hard to disagree). He’s unapologetic about Ryanair’s business plan — “our strategy is like Walmart: we pile it high and sell it cheap” — and ruthless toward those he sees as foes, calling British Airways “overcharging rapists” and offering the following charming perspective on travel agents: “Take [them] out and shoot them. What have they done for passengers over the years?”

Biggest Offender: Ryanair.

All right, readers, let’s hear it: Which airline do you think is the ugliest of them all?



– written by Sarah Schlichter

13 Responses to “Spirit vs. Ryanair: Who’s the Ugliest Airline of Them All?”

  1. Sylvia says:

    I booked United last year to our cruise on the Carnival Dream and they changed my flight times about 10 times before we flew, with one time being a major change. This year I have booked United to get us to Ft. Lauderdale. We are still three months out and we have already had about 6 changes. The one that has made me decide to NEVER fly them again was when they changed my return flight to one that had a leg that landed at IAH at 7:23pm and it’s connecting flight left at 7:00pm. How in the heck was I supposed to make that?

    • LILLIAN says:

      At AOL we did a story on Who Flies the Friendliest Skies?
      United was at the bottom.

    • Stu says:

      When that has happened to me a couple of times on American Airlines, all it took was a phone call to change to a reasonable departure/arrival time. Have you tried calling them, especially if you’re a member of their frequent flier program (they’re people are always the best at service)?

  2. The worst experience I had was with Iberia. Here’s the whole story. I was flying to Tenerife from Tucson, AZ. That was a long flight with 2 connections. When I checked in at Tucson, around 7AM, the next plane that was supposed to take me from Chicago to Barcelona was already grounded in Barcelona and the airline knew that it was grounded, and yet they checked me in the whole way. In Chicago, they rebooked me on two more flights (London, Barcelona, Tenerife). In London, it turned out that although I had a boarding pass, I did not have a seat on the flight to Barcelona. I had to run back and forth between terminals, to get on a flight to Barcelona next day, I spent over 12 hours in Heathrow with no assistance from Iberia whatsoever, without my luggage. After I arrived to Tenerife a day later then scheduled, of course, my luggage was not there. Over the next 7 days I kept calling Iberia about my luggage and they kept telling me that they will bring it to the hotel tomorrow, but never did. In the end, I received my luggage at Tenerife airport on the way back, the bag wheels were broken off, the clothes inside were wet, some things inside were broken. On the flight back to the US from Barcelona, the plane was sitting on the airfield under the blazing sun for about an hour, with A/C turned off. Back in the US, I mailed to Iberia a claim for reimbursement of necessities and clothes that I had to by while on Tenerife due to my baggage being delayed. I received no reimbursement and no response.

  3. Stephanie C. says:

    Worst North American airline in my opinion is Continental. Have flown on it approximately 8 times and not one of those flights has ever arrived on time. Newark is the classic – whenever the flight goes through that airport there is always a wait of several hours while they ‘find a pilot’. If they are scheduling the bloody flight they should have a plane and crew available for it – otherwise as far as I am concerned it is False Advertising and Taking Money Under False Pretenses. My last flight with them was definitely my LAST flight with them. I would not fly with them again even if it was free!

  4. mzkiz says:

    Having lived in Ireland for several years and frequently used Ryanair, I don’t know how anyone can truly complain about this no frills airline. The fact that we typically paid under $100, including all of their fees, for 2 people to fly roundtrip all over Europe was more than enough reason for me to fly Ryanair. They do not hide the fact that what you are buying is basic transportation and everything else is an extra charge. The flights are all short haul – none are much more than 3 hours – if you want a soft drink or a snack, you can bring it with you. The baggage policy is clearly spelled out – there are no surprises. Rynair runs a very cost effective, efficient airline that is the most financially successful airline in Europe – most of their competitors are financially troubled. If extra comfort and a free soft drink is that important to you, there are plenty of other airlines that will charge you considerably more and get you to the same place (and Ryanair typically gets you there on time as well!). I know I would rather spend the extra money once I get to my destination rather than getting a bag of peanuts on the flight over. As for Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair CEO, he pulls outrageous stunts and laughs all the way to the bank with his free publicity – he’s absolutely brilliant and a very shrewd businessman. Ryanair is an airline people love to hate – not me, I think they are great!

  5. Ramona Graves says:

    IBERIA! After waiting in the check-in line (the auto kiosk wouldn’t take my #,) and missing my flight, I asked the clerk to check later flights for availability. She claimed to be unable to do that and responded that I would have to wait in the customer service line to reschedule. Certain that I had misphrased my request, I asked again and was told that,”You are not special! Go to customer service!” That line took 4 hours and, when I finally got to the desk, I had to walk that clerk through the process of rebooking me on the next available flight. Only good part…the customer service folks were polite. (So..maybe I am a little special?)

  6. FSO says:

    My beef with Continental is the plane. Living in Texas makes it difficult to fly without an occasional Continental booking, however, I give them a pass if possible. No matter how experienced and competent the pilots may be, I have NEVER flown Con. that the take off and landing didn’t make me shutter along with the plane!

    Still have to give my all time worst to Delta, mainly due to their flight attendants. So rude and overbearing, they need to realize when they were hired they were given a bottle opener not a badge. What does it take to smile? Or just stay away, I didn’t pay for surly treatment. Delta would have to be the only airline left for me to fly with them again, and then only in an emergency.

    • carrie says:

      We were on a Delta flight last year, and the flight attendants were actually fighting with one another about closing the door and getting the baggage and people out of the aisles. If they didn’t charge for luggage – they wouldn’t have as many people in the aisles trying show their bags in the overheads.

  7. polly periwinkle says:

    I used to carry a #22 Scalpel blade (large blade!) in my wallet and often forgot to remove it before a flight……TSA NEVER detected it…..

    This whole alleged security check business is ridiculously flawed and only serves to get people used to manipulation. Who knows what is in store for us 20 years down the line, when all the sheep follow the leader.

  8. Maureen says:

    We flew Egpyt Air last year, the plane was old and the seats very cramped. After taking off I asked the flight attendant (male) as the plane was half empty could we change seats as we were right against the bulkhead, he said NO!! even though there were men lying the full length of the seats in about 4 lines of seats.
    Enough to say we are Western and the men lying on the seats were Arabs.

  9. jerry says:

    I fly Dallas to Sydney about 5 times a year always using Quantas. Once i decided to fly United. The stewardesses were all near retirement age and I believe this is why they hesitated to walk around the center isle to reach the opposite isle of the plane. They actually started throwing the pillows over the head of the middle rows when ever she was asked for an extra pillow.. Now this is when the plane is in flight,at night, and a couple of hours out of LA. They actually made a game of it with one saying, “I got 3 out of 4″. Never flew UA to Sydney again.

  10. Matthew Denton says:

    I am British and hate Ryanair. The state of their aircraft and the staff is Spaulding. Recently a Ryanair flight was delayed for over 11 hours at London Stansted and the airline refused to serve any passengers refreshments. Local police had to break into the airport in order to allow the passengers in once they disembarked the aircraft. Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary doesn’t care about his customers, he cares about his money. That’s why he spends so more time relaxing in his expensive home in the south of France than he does managing his airline. As for Spirit, I am unsure. I have never flown with them before (neither Ryanair) but I have had friends who have travelled on both airlines.

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