Spirit Airlines is an ultra low-cost carrier and because of that they often find themselves to be the butt of many jokes. But aside from getting roasted on occasion, are there any real, data-supported concerns about flying Spirit Airlines?
In this article, I take a deep dive into the statistics and see what they tell us about Spirit Airlines. Some of the data might actually surprise you depending on where you stand with Spirit. But other data points might fall just where you would expect them to.
So keep reading below to find out if Spirit Airlines is a safe airline and how different safety factors compare that you might care about.
Is Spirit Airlines safe?
Yes, Spirit Airlines is certified by the FAA and generally a safe airline to fly on. However, there are multiple factors to consider when deciding how “safe” an airline actually is. Below, I’ll go over some of these factors including the statistics for fatal crashes, fleet overview, and pilot certification.
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The number one safety factor usually on a travelers mind when flying a new airline is whether or not that airline has had any history of crashes.
You’ll be happy to find out that Spirit Airlines has had zero crashes since they started operating in 1992 (although technically Spirit Airlines has been around much longer than that).
Quick aside: You could date Spirit Airlines all the way back to 1964 when they started off as Clippert Trucking Company. They eventually pivoted in the 70s and 80s and became Charter One Airlines, which offered services to entertainment destinations such as Atlantic City and Las Vegas.
Charter One then changed its name to Spirit Airlines in 1992.
So Spirit has actually been around longer than you might have initially thought.
But back to fatal crashes….
Something to keep in mind is that fatal accidents are actually very rare on US airlines.
Looking at the data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), here are the number of fatal accidents recorded:
- 2010: 1
- 2011: 0
- 2012: 0
- 2013: 2
- 2014: 0
- 2015: 0
- 2016: 0
- 2017: 0
- 2018: 1
- 2019: 2
So as you can see according to the BTS, sometimes as many as four years will go by without a single fatal accident.
This is much lower than what we saw in the 90s where you would have a handful of fatal accidents almost every year. Because fatal accidents are extremely rare they are not really the best measurement for overall safety.
Instead, you might want to also consider other factors like the overall state of the fleet, pilot requirements, and on-time statistics. I will jump into each of these below.
If you’re wondering about the fleet most likely if you fly Spirit Airlines you’ll be flying on one of the following:
- Airbus A319-100
- Airbus A320-200
- Airbus A320neo
- Airbus A321-200
You’ll be happy to know that the Airbus A320 has a great reputation for being a safe aircraft. The A319 also has a spotless flight record in terms of safety. So you can rest assured that Spirit Airlines is, for the most part, operating aircraft with proven records of passenger safety.
And to make matters better, Spirit Airlines has one of the younger fleets, meaning that they are not relying on outdated aircraft to transport passengers. So from a fleet perspective, Spirit Airlines looks pretty darn good.
(Spirit Airlines no longer operates the McDonnell Douglas MD or DCs, which we are all completely retired as of 2010.)
Some of the minimum requirements to become a Spirit Airlines pilot include:
- 3,000 hours total time in fixed wing aircraft
- 1,000 hours in multi-engine aircraft
- Current FAA First Class Medical Certificate
- Current Unrestricted Airline Transport Pilot License
- FCC Radio Telephone Operator Permit
The average pay of a pilot for Spirit Airlines is not on par with other airlines like United and American. For example, in or around 2018 the average pay of a pilot for United Airlines was reportedly $272.41 but for Spirit it was $149.85. That’s a pretty big difference and some would say it’s an obvious indicator of the skill-level of the pilots.
Considering that according to the above linked source almost every other US airline paid their pilots more than Spirit, one could reasonably question if Spirit pilots are on the same level as those employed by the legacy carriers.
That brings up questions like whether or not Spirit pilots could handle an in-flight emergency as well as pilots from other airlines like Southwest or Delta. After all, would you offer the same level of trust to a physician that gets paid half the amount as another? Or would you not consider their pay to be an indicator of their skill level and experience?
Some would but others maybe wouldn’t since some skilled pilots might forgo higher pay for more desirable positions based on their personal needs.
Just something to think about.
When you are thinking about whether or not it is safe to book an airline, you’ll probably want to know how often they are on time.
Because while arriving in a safe fashion is expected, you also want to be able to make connections or get to where you need to be in a reasonable time. In 2020 Spirit Airlines ranked in the top 3 for on-time arrival percentage among major US carriers. That’s pretty impressive considering they beat out Airlines like Southwest, United, and Alaska.
That finding might make you really excited about flying Spirit Airlines. But you might want to curb your enthusiasm just a little bit after you check out the next section on cancellations.
One of the recent issues with Spirit Airlines is that they experienced a huge wave of cancellations in the late summer of 2021. Things were so bad that in a single day 56% of operations were canceled. This disaster was compounded by the lack of interline agreements which would normally make it easier to book passengers on other airlines.
This could have been an isolated incident caused by the quick rebound in post-pandemic flight traffic since Spirit projected a much higher rebound than other airlines.
Or a problem like this could be indicative of logistical issues that could arise again so it’s definitely something to consider before booking a flight on Spirit Airlines.
Complaints and fines
Spirit Airlines has had its share of controversy in the past.
For example, they were fined $50,000 by the DOT for violating federal aviation laws and the Department’s rules prohibiting deceptive price advertising in air travel.
While the conduct was certainly not consumer friendly it wasn’t that bad. Essentially, Spirit Airlines used billboards and posters to advertise rates but relied on a small asterisk to convey that additional taxes, fees and conditions would apply.
There was also an issue with announcing nine dollar fares on Twitter and not being fully transparent on the amount of additional restrictions, taxes, and fees.
Incidents more closely related to safety involve fines for maintenance-related issues. For example, in 1999 Spirit Airlines was fined $86,000 for failing to inspect a jet within a required timeframe. And the next year they got hit with a $67,000 fine after the FAA found eight Spirit planes had signs that did not accurately reflect that seat cushions couldn’t float.
Spirit Airlines ran into some trouble from 2013 to 2015 with passenger complaints. In 2013, and again in 2015, the DOT received more passenger complaints about Spirit than any other airline.
Specifically in 2015, data from the DOT showed that 11.73 out of every 100,000 customers who flew Spirit complained about “some aspect of their experience.”
The industry’s overall rate was at 1.9 per 100,000 fliers so that was drastically above the industry average.
Another relevant factor here is conduct among passengers.
I struggled to find official data on passenger fights and disputes but Spirit Airlines is one of the airlines that has recently become infamous for passengers scuffles. Some of these have occurred at the check-in desk while others have took place in the terminals and even in-flight.
From a safety perspective you certainly might be better off avoiding minor confrontations with other passengers that could potentially escalate into something bigger when flying Spirit Airlines. But in some cases, such as in the plane, you may not really have anywhere to go to get away.
Since we are still dealing with the reality of a pandemic a lot of people also wonder if Spirit Airlines is a safe airline to fly during coronavirus. According to one review, Spirit ranked near the bottom but it wasn’t focused purely on safety.
Spirit reports that they use two EPA-registered fogging treatments to disinfect their aircraft and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters that “capture 99.97% of particles and filters the air for contaminants every 2-3 minutes.” Pretty standard practices for airlines these days. You can find out more about the coronavirus protocols they are taking here.
Why do people fly Spirit Airlines?
Now that you have heard the good and the bad, you might be asking why do people fly Spirit Airlines?
Spirit Airlines appeals to a lot of travelers because they offer a traveling experience on a budget.
You can find very cheap fares to destinations all around the US and even to places like the Caribbean. This is especially true if you are a member of the $9 Fare Club.
The drawback to flying with Spirit Airlines is that you will have to pay extra for things like carry-on items, seat assignments, and baggage fees can also be expensive.
The trick is to try to pay for these things as soon as possible such as whenever you make your booking online. If you wait until you arrive at the airport you could be spending a substantial amount more on these things. So just know what you are signing up for when you fly with Spirit.
Related: Spirit Airlines Pet Policy Guide
Overall, Spirit Airlines is a safe airline just like any other major US carrier. If you are worried about crashing, chances are your worries are over blown. Spirit has had some issues with customer complaints and cancellations but things have calmed down overtime.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.