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airplanes travel planes sad suitcasesFrom the moment you book your plane ticket (want to select your seat in advance? That’ll be $10, please) to the day you roll up to the check-in counter and shell out $50 for your checked bags, the airlines leave no fee unturned. And this past weekend, most major U.S. airlines found yet another way to line their pockets at the expense of the flying public.

On Friday, Congress failed to pass legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. As of Saturday, FAA-funded construction projects have been put on hold, all non-essential employees have been furloughed and — most importantly for fliers — the agency has lost the ability to collect various taxes that normally go along with the purchase of a plane ticket.

Hurray! Cheaper airfare for everyone, right?

Well, no. Instead of passing the tax savings on to travelers, most major airlines are raising their fares to offset the cost of the taxes — and pocketing the difference. The Associated Press reports that American, United, Continental, Delta, US Airways, Southwest, AirTran and JetBlue have all increased their fares, typically by about 7.5 percent.

According to an earlier AP report, “Passengers who bought tickets before this weekend but travel during the FAA shutdown could be entitled to a refund of the taxes that they paid, said Treasury Department spokeswoman Sandra Salstrom. She said it’s unclear whether the government can keep taxes for travel at a time when it doesn’t have authority to collect the money.”

Editor’s Note: On August 5, the IRS announced that passengers will not be getting refunds for taxes paid during the FAA shutdown after all. You can read the IRS statement here.

There are a few airlines out there that are giving travelers a break, including Virgin America, Frontier, Alaska and Spirit. Yes, that’s the same Spirit we wrote about a couple of weeks ago as one of the ugliest airlines in the industry. But hey, we can give credit where it’s due. It’s nice to see Spirit making the customer-friendly choice for once.

As for the big guys, shame on them. Really, it’s no wonder we hate the airlines.



– written by Sarah Schlichter

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

Spirit AirlinesWe thought it couldn’t get any worse. We were wrong.

Spirit Airlines, the only U.S. carrier that charges fees for carry-on luggage, has managed to dump even more baggage fees on fliers. Spirit passengers who pay for their carry-on bags within 24 hours of departure will be charged an additional $5 for doing so online or $10 for doing it by phone. This change is effective for travelers booking on or after March 24.

Spirit’s original carry-on bag fees are now, according to the airline, an “Early Bird Discount.” Spirit customers can catch the disappointing, dried-up worm by paying $30 per carry-on bag ($20 for members of Spirit’s $9 Fare Club) when purchased at least 24 hours in advance of departure. Spirit’s backhanded interpretation of “discount” troubles me. Like a petulant child who “picks up” his clothes by picking them up and then dropping them on the floor again, Spirit is twisting words in the face of its eye-rolling, grudging customers.

And the fees get steeper. The last-minute Larry who shows up at the airport without pre-purchasing a carry-on bag will be charged $45 at the airport gate and $40 at the airport kiosk. (These particular fees aren’t new, but I think they’re noteworthy).

With its newest carry-on baggage charges, Spirit seems to be slapping the concept of customer service square in the face. But the airline’s bread and butter has always been its extremely cheap fares, with flights as low as $9 each way (and sometimes even cheaper) for members of its $9 Fare Club — and Spirit’s never been one to worry about maintaining a squeaky-clean image. We’ve reported on Spirit’s devilish antics in the past, from scuffles with stranded passengers to shocking and offensive ads. Really, nothing Spirit does should surprise us anymore.

In the airline’s defense, its fees are cheaper for checked bags than for carry-ons. (Take a look at the full list of what Spirit charges in Airline Baggage Fees. ) This should, at least, free up some overhead space on the plane.

Will you still fly with Spirit?

– written by Caroline Costello

couple hammock beach romance vacation travelSo it’s Valentine’s Day. Did you get the Hallmark card yet? The roses? The conversation hearts? The free booze on Southwest Airlines?

Yes, according to a Tweet from the airline, Southwest is giving away free “adult drinks” on all flights. Ostensibly, it’s meant to promote the airline’s tweaks to its Rapid Rewards loyalty program, but it’s timed nicely to coincide with all the lonely hearts flitting around the country today. If you miss it, not to worry: The airline is repeating the promotion on St. Patrick’s Day (hmmm …).

If you’d rather save some money than suck down a gratis gin and tonic at 30,000 feet, Spirit Airlines is offering $50 off round-trip flights with a special holiday deal. But move fast: You have to book by 11:59 p.m. ET today and fly from February 17 through March 4. Isn’t it romantic?

If you prefer the sea to the air, several cruise lines are offering special enticements for those who book over the next few days. In a sale starting today, for instance, Azamara Club Cruises is offering a bonanza of extras (a $500 onboard credit, Champagne, strawberries) for passengers booking an outside or higher-category cabin on select European itineraries. Check out the details on this and several other promotions at our sister site, Cruise Critic.

If you’re as sick of this cold winter as the rest of us, Mexico may be beckoning. Book today and you can get 50 percent off rooms at the JW Marriott Cancun Resort or the CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort. You have to reserve by 11:59 tonight and use the promo code L9Z. Rates start at just $100 a night for travel through December 12, 2011.

Don’t leave home without our Seven Secrets for a More Romantic Trip.

– written by John Deiner

How much aggravation must travelers put up with to save a few bucks?

spirit airlines

Last week, dedicated Spirit Airlines customer Richard Rosichan (known as RichardNika on our message boards), who has flown with the airline roughly 50 times in the past few years, made up his mind to never fly Spirit again — and is in the process of filing suit against the company.

For years, Rosichan was a faithful customer, logging more than 80,000 miles with the airline. As a member of Spirit’s $9 Fare Club, Rosichan estimates he’s saved as much as $4,000 flying with Spirit over the years (in comparison to standard fare prices on major carriers).

All the while, Rosichan remained undeterred by Spirit’s history of controversial practices and policies. A nickel-and-diming pioneer, Spirit was one of the first carriers to levy fees for beverages and checked bags in 2007. And Spirit’s gotten plenty of negative exposure from the offensive ad campaigns it has launched over the years (a recent Spirit ad poked fun at the Gulf oil spill). This week, Spirit made headlines after the airline started charging passengers for carry-on bags on August 1.

But it wasn’t the baggage fees that swayed Rosichan.

Rosichan’s positive relationship with Spirit Airlines changed drastically on July 26, after a canceled Spirit flight left him stranded. According to Rosichan, Spirit canceled its 6:50 flight from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale due to weather and offered only to rebook ticketed passengers on a flight leaving two days later. Rosichan posted about his experience on the IndependentTraveler.com message boards: “[Spirit was] dismissive and totally uninterested in cases involving connection problems, lodging, meals, parents with toddlers (at least two that I saw) and medical issues. … There were no supervisory personnel present. We were told no arrangements would be made with other carriers.”

Unfortunately, the airlines are not required by U.S. law to compensate passengers for delayed or canceled flights. But most major airlines have interline agreements with other carries, which means they can book stranded passengers on a different airline if need be. Since Spirit Airlines has no interline agreements with other carriers, a stranded Spirit passenger is in a particularly precarious position.

Rosichan eventually purchased a flight on Delta and made his way home. He is currently in the process of filing a grievance against Spirit Airlines in small claims court.

Rosichan’s change of heart raises the question at the heart of the matter. Notwithstanding Spirit’s flood of petty fees, Rosichan saved a significant amount of money flying Spirit, which sometimes offers tickets as cheap as $2 before taxes and fees — but was it worth it? Tell us what you think.