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Spirit Airlines Meet The MegaBus

So now I’ve gone and done it again. Once again I’ve made more work for myself. I’ve set the bar too high and I’ll never be able to live up to my heat of the moment expectations. It all started with a bad customer experience with an airline company that shall remain named – Spirit Airlines. Good, kind and non grudge holding reader you shall see that this is even part of my work – part of the task that I dread, but promised to carry out and must now stay committed.

I’ve flown Spirit, the low-cost carrier, between Chicago and Minneapolis several times. It’s always been for a spot of the work, usually going back and forth in the same day. I have no baggage and that’s good, because they charge for everything. They charge for water, they charge for peanuts, they charge for pop, they even charge the good people of Whoville for their wimbizzlers and bomboozlers. They’re a mean one, Spirit Airlines.

But the price is right. It’s nothing personal, it’s just their business plan. So I flew Spirit. On every flight, at some point, whether it’s waiting for a late flight or being charged for baggage or a cup of water, I’ve overheard someone say they would never fly Spirit Airlines again.

Recently, I had a flight to Chicago to connect with another airline to fly to Boston. 24 hours in advance I went to check in. I could not find any record of my ticket in their system so I called to talk to customer service. Spirit Airlines desperately does not want to talk to customers, so much so that they bury that option in their phone menu and even place it after the option to “hang up”. If you zone out and don’t hang up you may be lucky enough to hear the “speak to a customer rep” option.

When reaching a customer rep I found that when I didn’t need the first half of my flight 30 days earlier (another story), the second leg of my trip was automatically cancelled. Ok. Good to know. I did have some available time so I argued with the customer rep and then argued with a manager. I explained that I would probably be traveling to Chicago using Spirit 5-10 more times in the coming year and asked to have my ticket reinstated. It could not be reinstated because my seat was sold and the flight was full. My only option was to buy a new ticket. I would not do that.

I never get angry about stuff like this, but I do use up some of their time. The two customer service reps (“customer service reps” is not the best job description for these particular employees of Spirit Airlines) would not budge or give me any consideration – even after explaining the business sense of turning away $600 to $1000 in business over what now was a $127 one way ticket. After all, this was part of their business plan.

I asked for the agents names. They could only give me their first names and their agent numbers. I wrote the names and numbers down. Here are the people who didn’t help me at Spirit Airlines: Alvin, Agent ID 29713 and Brittany, Agent ID 29737. Since I went to the trouble of getting their names and agent IDs, I thought I should at least put them to some use.

I also told them I would never fly Spirit Airlines again. Man, they do have cheap tickets – but forget it. Southwest is not that much more. Finally, I told them that I would tell everyone that I know not to fly Spirit Airlines. I even promised them I would do this. I think they responded with, “ok, sir.”

Here’s where my work comes in. I made a promise that I would tell everyone I know not to fly Spirit Airlines. I just don’t really have time to always be trying to remember to tell people not to do something. But, I made a promise and I will try to hold up my end of the bargain.

As I hung up the phone I thought about the name Spirit and how it seemed wrong. But, wait, if there is a “good” spirit, there must also be a “bad” spirit. Their company (and business plan) must be named after the bad spirit.

Now I needed to get to Chicago for a flight that departed at 9 am the morning after the next. Time to shift gears from company business plan analyst to travel agent. Buying a next day ticket would prove to be too expensive. My mind immediately went to the mode of transportation we call the bus.

The last time I took a bus I was seated in the back and the wasted man in front of me lit a cigarette and promptly fell asleep, leaning into the cigarette ember with his head. Since his head was covered with hair, that caught on fire. Like a Fire Marshall, at the first smell of burning hair I reached around and hit him in the shoulder to wake him up. He extinguished the cigarette – this time not in his hair. Eventually, this man was unceremoniously escorted from the bus at the half way point in Tomah, Wisconsin.

That bus ride was via good old-fashioned Greyhound some 15 years earlier. This time around I would try the MegaBus. I had seen the large blue double-decker buses on the highway and for $36 from Minneapolis to Chicago, I counted myself in. At this point saving money was the name of the game so I decided to do something future me would hate me for – I bought a ticket on the 10:30 pm bus that was supposed to arrive in Chicago at 6:40 am. This way I wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel. Off the bus downtown and the redline out to O’Hare.

My neighbor and friend (chronologically) Liz dropped me off at the bus after we circled the block three times trying to detect where the bus stop was located. We finally spotted the rag-tag group of discount travelers standing in a parking lot near a very small MegaBus sign. After a couple of minutes the big blue double-decker bus showed up.

When I see it on the highway, I always dream of sitting on the top level. But tonight my first thoughts were maybe the bottom would be better in case some young guys would be rowdy up there. I also thought if it crashed and rolled I would be better served on the first floor.

A big man about 6′ 3″ opened the back on first level and started telling people to bring their baggage to him. He actually yelled at a couple of people.

“Didn’t you hear what I said? I said listen to me. What’s wrong with you?”

At first I thought it was jokey patter. But it wasn’t. He was seriously yelling at the people, all at the same time wearing a shirt with the MegaBus logo. So, he was actually an employee.

A petite woman lugged her bag up on the makeshift counter. I think Yeller was just grabbing another bag and her bag came close to bumping his hand. He snapped at her, “You hurt me, I’ll hurt you!” and pushed her bag back. I looked slowly around to see if there were any hidden cameras. Had I just bought a ticket on a traveling reality show?

I only had a small bag and slinked onto the bus with it, to put under my seat. I got onto first level and nabbed a window seat. It looked like it was going to be a full bus, but held out hope for the coveted alone seat. A family with two very small children loaded across from me. I tried to think, who would be on first level and who would be upstairs. Family’s made sense to be on first level. All young people would be upstairs. People lighting hair on fire probably would stumble to upstairs for their required privacy.

Who might also be on first level? Then I looked up and realized that people who are carrying a two-quart red mountain dew, two bags of chips, and three feet of beef jerky would also be candidates for the first level. I moved over as much as possible to let the nice woman sit.

Our next stop was a pick up in St. Paul. My neighbor was almost finished with all of her food and drink by then. I had pulled out my iPad to think about writing. I asked where she was going. She said Madison. Then she felt that she needed to address her food. She said she hadn’t eaten in a while and was feeling a little faint. I think she was now ok and ready for some conversation.

She asked if I had seen the local news about the baby. I said that I’d been a bit out of touch with the local news.

She said, “They found that two-year old baby. It was the cutest little Caucasian baby and they found it in the trunk of the car. They had been searching 2 days. I don’t think that baby got into the truck of that car by itself. Then how would that baby close that truck. It was terrible.”

I had not heard this and I agreed that it was terrible.

She continued, “Cutest little Caucasian two-year old.”

I wanted to let her know that she could say “White” because it’s easier than Caucasian. I wanted to admit that I sometimes lead with “African-American” because I know it’s the right thing to do. But once I’ve established that I know the right thing to do, I’ll follow with “Black” because it’s so much easier.

She looked at my iPad and finished with, “You can look up the story. Just google, Caucasian baby in trunk.”

After this exchange we had some more normal conversation, but everyone was starting to drift off to sleep. She made a couple of phone calls and I looked at things on my phone. It all got very quiet on the bus. That is until we approached Mauston, WI.

At about 2:00 in the morning all the lights came on in the bus and the very industrial speakers loudly pumped out the voice of our bus driver, earlier introduced to us as Delicia.

“We’re coming to Mauston. We’ll be here 25 minutes. You have 25 minutes to get your snacks. Repeat, you’ll have 25 minutes to get your snacks.”

The children across from me woke up crying. Apparently they didn’t know that it was MegaBus policy that everybody has a snack at 2 am. I only wondered if Delicia was our bus driver’s real name or stage name. As the bus pulled into the Pilot gas station and I thought about the name Delicia, I began to get hungry. Very clever. All part of the MegaBus show. By the time the bus stopped I was convinced that I was hungry. I ate a banana that I had brought and walked through the Pilot to see what kinds of snacks my fellow riders were getting.

Once everyone had their prerequisite snacks and the 25 minutes had lapsed we were back on the road. The rest of the trip was me trying to fall to sleep and not having much success. I did drift off and woke up to say goodbye to my traveling companion in Madison.

As the dawn was breaking, I realized that we were not going to be into Chicago by the scheduled 6:40 am. I would not be able to take a train to the airport. We rolled into Chicago a full hour late. Now I had to take a taxi and ask the driver to “step on it”. But he was a black African guy from Kenya and was only confused by my colloquialism.

I eventually made it to my plane and boarded in the nick of time. I was using frequent flyer miles so I paid some money to get a bulkhead seat. I was given some water and a bag of snacks – 10 am snacks, as opposed to 2 am snacks. I needed to get some sleep. The final leg of my trip was a 5 hour car ride so I’d probably need at least 2 more snacks.

As I drifted off to sleep with my bulkhead leg room I felt like a King who had just been out with the masses, but was now back in the castle. The bus is a good once every fifteen year experience just to reaffirm my need of a car. At the end of the day the 36 dollar MegaBus show was well worth it, including the snack intermission. However, I will never again fly Spirit Airlines. I will not fly them with a fox, I will not fly them in a box, I will not fly them from Minneapoils, and I will not recommend them to my Greek friend, Vinnie Grapolous.

Sadly yours,

Jason Spafford

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