First, this trip was made possible in part because Spirit Airlines had a CRAZY cheap deal running – like their round trip flight I thought was one way, the tickets were that inexpensive. But we had heard Spirit is poorly rated for customer service, not on time often, and charges for everything. (We had people tell us they charge to use the bathroom – they don’t, for the record.) 🙂
But the tickets couldn’t be beat on price so we went for it and read through their whole website and called their customer service line to verify things.
You do pay for bags – checking bags or carry on bags over a certain size. You can take a stroller, carseat, and diaper bag for free (we gate checked a stroller – you take it literally to the airplane door and pick it up as you exit.) You can also bring a bag on with your meal (lunch, dinner, etc) and your jacket and umbrella. None of those charge, and you get to take a “personal” item on for free – as long as it’s under 16″ by 14″ by 12″ – so we just measured all our bags! My big, yellow carry around bag fits that as well as the gigantic black diaper bag Kit and I use to pack for trips. Then we found several of the kids’ back packs under that size (some were NOT, if they had wheels/handles.) However, no one ever asked us to check our bag size. We flew with seven bags and a lunch cooler bag plus jackets and a stroller and we didn’t pay any extra fees. We could have taken more!
I’m still shocked we packed all our family of 8 needed for a 4 day/3 night stay including special park costumes for Harry Potter world, swim clothes, snacks, etc… and all in 7 “personal sized” bags. If we can do it, you can, too!
You also pay to pick your seat – fees ranged from $10 per seat per leg of the journey to $50 per seat if you wanted the big front seats. Most were under $18. We took the gamble again – and by checking in online right at 24 hours before the trip we were assigned seats together. We had two parties of 4 each so on the return flight we did get rows 22 and 24, but row 23 was very kind and helpful to us. 🙂 We didn’t ask them to swap but I bet they would have. So we paid nothing extra to get seats assigned, but if you take that risk I would say look online at the reservation management because if your flight is filling fast you may need to reserve – our flight had at least 10 unassigned rows so we felt it was safe.
(Setting up the online account management did take a phone call to customer service – we set up the account but couldn’t access our reservation, they just had to link them up they said to verify it was really ours. And it was quite the phone tree to speak to a live person but only took a few minutes.)
If you print boarding passes at home you can walk through security right to the gate and you already have your assigned seat. Otherwise you can print the boarding pass at the airport kiosk but if that doesn’t work for any reason and you need the desk people to help it’s a $10 fee to have the pass printed. We didn’t pay anything to print as we did them at home going there, and the hotel had a kiosk to print them for free on our return.
You do pay for food and beverages online – including water ($3/bottle for water or soda.) But you can bring empty water bottles through security then fill them at the fountains on the other side. We had several of our stainless steel water bottles with bottle carriers I crocheted for the kids so they could carry their own – it was no problem at all. And since you can bring your own sack lunch on that was best – they had several snack options on the flight but they aren’t cheap. I just hit Aldis and stuffed a back pack with granola bars, trail mix, cheese sticks and crackers, grapes and apples. I packed a LOT! We ended up bringing a lot of it into the parks for early morning snacks (not much is open at 8am when you do early admission at Harry Potter world!) and then had snacks for the flight home – plus leftovers. I worry about always having enough snacks on hand. 🙂
Oh, and when Ben got sick on the flight back the flight attendants were SO attentive – they brought him ginger ale and water bottles and ice to suck on and were really, really kind. As we left the airport they stopped us again to check and make sure he was feeling okay back on the ground.
Security at the airport with six kids – BOTH directions we walked up and they literally opened a new lane for us to go through. Divine intervention. There were no pat downs or scans, though one of the kids pulled up for their random screen so they swabbed Kit’s hands instead (super fast, before we even got all our bags lined up) and told us what they were doing and why. We had three security people helping us both directions – and when I apologized for the pile of bags and kids they smiled and said NO problem, take our time, etc. I had carefully set our liquids in one clear bag and electronics in another – they didn’t make us pull out anything, just x-rayed it all and sent us through. The kids all are allowed to keep their shoes on though Mo’s set off the detector so we just took hers off the second time. And we had an almost incident when E was cold and didn’t want to send her coat through but they said they would do it really fast for her. We got through security both directions (with HUGE lines around us) in under 5 minutes. After my stress about a major incident or melt down it was nothing! Then the kids got to ride trains and moving walkways and thought that was fantastic.
I was doing some re-packing quickly at the gate before our return (shifting items for easier access) and an older gentleman approached us with a smile and shaking his head and says to Kit, “I’ve been watching her work and it’s like she’s preparing for war! She’s so organized!” We both laughed and he asked if he could get us anything – he could go buy water bottles or something. We said thank you so much, but we’ve got some water bottles to fill already and he smiled and said of course and wished us well. It was really kind.
Everyone was so kind.
We had people seated around us on the flight and J had a grandmother sitting the row behind him and Ben was sitting behind her (we had a row between us on the return.) She and J flirted as we waited and then on take off she could see Ben BEHIND her was nervous so she reached back and held his hand through the whole take off. Kit was across the row from Ben keeping Emy and Mo calm. I had Livy with me chatting off the ear of the grandmother next to her and when Livy fell asleep (literally as we touched down! Literally!) the sweet grandmother reached over and picked up Livy’s feet as they slid off the seat and rested them in her laps so she could stretch out as we taxied and waited to unload. C was sitting next to a young woman who chatted with him for half an hour about Harry Potter world. The row of men between Kit and me complimented our kids on being such great travelers.
And this was AFTER Ben spent an hour being airsick. 🙁 And when the candy wasn’t working to pop his ears J was screaming, “MY EARS DON’T WORK! I NEED A LOLLY!” over and over as I tried to console him and the grandmother offered him gum. It felt like an eternity but was probably under 60 seconds. And everyone around him was so sympathetic and reassuring to him – and me! Livy told me the same thing, “I can’t hear, my ears don’t work!” but then they popped and she said, “OH, they work now!” and then they were both all smiles.
Mo had a hard time on take off with anxiety but then said afterwards it was awesome. She was really brave, and I should have better prepared for our sensory sensitive child with inner ear issues to struggle with flying.
All in all, despite the few hiccups and challenges it was a wonderful and smooth experience.
Lessons learned – bring way more lollipops or non-spicy gum (the kids rejected the mint.) Wikki Stix got us there without mess or incident – so, SO worth getting and keeping tucked away (they take up virtually no space) as they kept several kids entertained for 2 hours. (Thank you to my client who suggested them!!!!) Pack fresh fruit and veggies in snack size containers – we were all missing real fruit after three days of snack/pre-packaged/fried/theme park food. You can bring a lunch sized cooler onto the airplane and into the theme parks so we just refreshed with ice at the hotel and had stuff still cold for several days. Make sure you have a change of shirt for parents and a change of clothes for kids accessible. We didn’t need them but we had them ready in case anyone got sick/spilled/etc. If you are checking a bag have a spare set of clothes in your carry on bag. Put movies onto your phone/iPad – those were a life saver when I had a sick kid, anxious kid, and needed to keep a little one busy. And don’t schedule flights past bedtime. Landing at bedtime heading there was fine – taking off AT bedtime (8pm) coming back wasn’t smart on my part. Prepare kids for the security checks, having to put their bags, coat, love, stroller on x-ray belt and potentially having a pat down.
Smile and make eye contact and say THANK YOU to everyone around you. When we approached the plane or gate or security the kids were quietly reminded, “Say hello and thank you!” and even cranky looking people would look up and smile and greet the kids and be kind in response (when based on their expressions I feared they were going to be grumps.) We thanked everyone around us – seated near us, flight attendants, cleaning crew, security guards with guns. 🙂 And with one ship captain who just did not smile, we got happy reactions from everyone else!