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Last in Service, First in Profit Margin, Spirit Paves the Way for Bare-Bones Air Travel

A Spirit Airlines plane at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Sunday, June 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
A Spirit Airlines plane at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Sunday, June 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

When you purchase a ticket to fly America’s fastest-growing and most-criticized airline, here is what you get: a seat, a mini-tray table, free use of the bathroom, room for your legs, maybe even some room for your knees.

You pay for everything else. A printed boarding pass is $10. Water is $3. The right to bring a carry-on is at least $35. And checked bags? Spirit Airlines was charging for those seven years ago, back when it still seemed unusual.

Offering dirt-cheap fares and add-ons galore, Spirit has become the emblem of a sensible but potentially aggravating industry transition, one in which U.S. carriers are reconsidering every aspect of how they fly and what travelers should pay for.

If anything, economists say, this reexamination is overdue. Airlines have long ranked among the most volatile companies, enduring decades of up-and-down earnings and a series of bankruptcies. Legacy carriers such as Delta and United have only recently grown profitable by raising fares, removing smaller hubs and cramming in more passengers.

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