Ladies: How to Pack for Two Weeks in Europe

We all face the same dilemma. We want to bring more stuff than we want to carry. Short of a magical bag, we need a plan: How to use a capsule travel wardrobe to pack two weeks of clothes in a carry on.

Photograph, Pglam on iStock Photos.

We all face the same dilemma. We want to bring more stuff than we want to carry. I mean, NO ONE wants to be the idiot schlepping through the airport burdened like a pack mule. It’s not cool. It’s not sexy. Okay, I’m not really going for sexy these days — but I am going for competent.

What we want: a Harry Potter bag that magically holds everything we could possibly want to wear in our wildest fantasies on this upcoming trip.

Well, here’s the reality check: you’re a muggle, and you don’t have that magical bag. Oh, and for you witches and wizards reading this, you may smirk quietly amongst yourselves.

Can You Get  2 – 3 Weeks of Clothes in a Carry-on?

Yes. If you’re willing to do some planning, make your selections and prepare, you most certainly can. You will, of course, be doing laundry. I give the laundry to the hotel, or do it myself when I have an apartment.

Packing List

 Early Fall  Late Fall
  • 4-5 bottoms, either pants, skirts, or capris (wear 1 on plane)
  • 6 tops (wear 1 on plane)
  • 1 dress (optional — if you choose this, eliminate 1 bottom and 1 top from items above)
  • 1 cardigan (wear 1 on plane)
  • 1 vest (optional)
  • 2-3 silk scarves
  • 2-3 pairs of shoes (wear 1 on plane). **** if these are bulky shoes, then 2 pair only.
  • Sleepwear
  • 4-5 bottoms, either pants or skirts (wear 1 on plane)
  • 5 tops (wear 1 on plane)
  • 1-2 pullover sweaters (may need to delete 1 bottom or top)
  • 1 dress (optional — if you choose this, eliminate 1 bottom and 1 top from items above)
  • 1 jacket or coat (wear on plane)
  • 1 vest (optional)
  • 2 scarves (1 light, 1 heavy)
  • 2-3 pairs of shoes (wear 1 on plane). **** if these are bulky shoes, then 2 pair only.
  • Sleepwear
  • 1 swimsuit (optional, depending on trip)
  • 1 extra bra
  • 7 undies
  • makeup, toiletries, medicines
  • brush/comb
  • Bath scrubby (European hotels often do not have wash cloths)
  • jewelry — keep it light
  • soap for clothes, clothesline
  • sanitary products
  • Converter — Bestek, with multiple plug spots
  • Power supplies (laptop, phone, iPad, camera)
  • 1 extra bra
  • 7 undies
  • makeup, toiletries, medicines
  • brush/comb
  • Bath scrubby
  • jewelry — keep it light
  • soap for clothes, clothesline
  • sanitary products
  • Converter
  • Power supplies (laptop, phone, iPad, camera)

  • This can make or break you in weight and bulk. Needs to be all in small bottles, and eliminate anything not absolutely necessary.

  • This is NOT the time to bring your train case. Pare it down! You may want to choose one color palette and stick with it.

A Capsule Wardrobe

I believe in planning, and I’m an advocate of what is called a capsule wardrobe.

The idea is to choose pieces with the maximum ability to coordinate with one another, giving you as many outfits as possible.

  • First Core of Four: Pick one dark neutral (I chose black in the example)
  • Second Core of Four: Pick a lighter neutral (I chose a stone-taupe)
  • Bridge Four: Choose pieces of clothing that work with the two Core sets of clothing. These may be blouses or shirts that have both colors in them, or they may simply be colors that complement both of the core colors well.
  • Accent Four: If you were building a stay-at-home wardrobe, these might be more tops. For travel, I use scarves as accents — they’re light, and they add a pop of color.

For my shoes and handbag, I chose black and a soft blue. I’m sticking with black for shoes because I own these already, but you might want one pair in a neutral taupe if you were buying.

I’ll be gone for nearly three weeks, in New York City, London, Rome, and Florence. London is the coldest, but since I’ll be there at the end of August, I don’t need to worry about a heavy jacket. Have a close look at the time in the fall you are traveling, and look at average temps wherever you plan to be. On my trip, these are the temperature ranges I expect. (Holiday Weather is a handy site for looking up average monthly temperature ranges).

Cities Temperatures
London, late August  57 – 70° F (14-21° C)
Rome, September  61-81° F (16-27°  C)
Florence, September  61-81° F (16-27°  C)

Black and Taupe Capsule Travel Wardrobe

Two week Europe packing list
A travel capsule wardrobe in black and taupe. By being disciplined in selecting pieces in two neutrals, one dark and one lighter, it’s easy to get multiple outfits out of a few pieces.

Different outfit ideas from the capsule wardrobe:

Capsule wardrobe for travel in black and taupe
Here are just a selection of combinations possible with this capsule wardrobe.

So — there are SO many ways to go at the capsule wardrobe work, and it can be a lot of fun. On my last two cruises, my core colors were navy and white.

Best Bags for a Trip to Europe

Well, the answer to that question is different for each of us, isn’t it? I am often living out of a suitcase for three to four weeks these days, so here is my solution to the problem.

How we pack, the luggage we pick, and what we decide to bring are all highly personal choices. I do not suggest this is the answer for everyone out there, but it works for me — and I think travelers learn something from looking at one another’s packing systems.

The packing list above WILL fit into a 21″ roll-aboard, as long as you aren’t crazy with toiletries, makeup, and medicine. What I find, though, is that it’s tight, and my preference follows.

Picking the best bag for Europe travel. Spinner and tote.
My new luggage duo: a Travelpro Platinum Magna 21″ Expandable Spinner, and a Briggs & Riley Transcend Clamshell Cabin Bag. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I take two bags for clothes and toiletries. One is almost empty when I go:

When I am in transit, my purse is packed because I carry my camera bag instead. This way I’m only handling three objects.

I keep my passport, money, and credit cards in a wristlet in my camera bag or tote, which is easy for me to take to the restroom on a plane or a train for safekeeping.

I am just not a backpack kind of woman, so the Rick Steves “put it all in one backpack” system is not my thing. I easily navigate the airport and the train stations with my luggage, but I always take either a taxi or a car to the hotel. I’m not ever going to take the subway, metro rail, or buses to move my luggage around — and I won’t be rolling any distance on sidewalks.

That said, I can always pick up and carry my own luggage when it’s necessary. It’s the reason I won’t take a larger suitcase.

Luggage ad
Can you imagine? A luggage ad for trunks and train cases.

Why not just carry one big suitcase?

I carry the spinner with the tote because it’s much easier for me to get those two lighter pieces of luggage on and off of trains, or up staircases than it is for me to carry a large pullman case.

I have just replaced my wheeled carry-on suitcase.

I went from a Hartmann roll-aboard with two wheels — that always tumped forward if I’d packed it fully with it fully extended (– what a pain in the ass!) to a Travelpro 21″ Spinner.  [Please note, the case itself is 21″ — but total length with wheels is H: 23.75in W: 14.75in D: 9.5in — ALWAYS note the difference. I always check these bags, because my camera bag is what I choose to take onboard — but if you plan to take the suitcase with you on the plane, you MUST know the total dimensions with the wheels to be sure the case will fit.]

Also, as most of you are aware, the carry-on size restrictions in Europe are often smaller that they are in the United States. Since I check my suitcase, this isn’t a concern for me; if you are planning to carry yours on, go for an “international” carry-on size.

The Amazon Carry On Guide is a handy page where you select the airline you’re going to fly with, and then Amazon gives you a list of carry-ons from various companies that will fit those overhead bins.

There is definitely a debate among travelers as to whether it’s better to have a roll-aboard with two wheels, or a spinner suitcase with four wheels.

This is a personal choice. The benefit to the two-wheeled varieties is that they generally have more interior packing space, although this is not always true.

If you are going to be dragging your suitcase over cobble stone streets from the train station to the hotel, the two-wheeled versions work better; the spinner wheels catch in indentations more. I would continue to choose a two-wheeled roll-aboard over a spinner if I weren’t having problems with my elbow.

Which bag for travel would you choose? Spinner and roll aboard side by side.
Here is my new spinner on the left, and my roll-aboard on the right. The spinner is definitely smaller — not by much, but when you’re packing, you feel the difference. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Make a decision based on how you travel and what you plan to do with the case. When you are choosing a new suitcase, make notes on both the interior and exterior dimensions, and look for a interior capacity measurement, as you compare possible candidates.

I am changing from a roll-aboard to the spinner because in 2005, I was in a motorcycle accident, and I have some arthritis in my right elbow. Spinners work better for me because they don’t put weight on that elbow the way two wheeled cases do.

What goes in the spinner, and what do I put in the tote? My 21 inch spinner gets EVERYTHING except: One TSA sized liquids bag with: deodorant, toothbrush/toothpaste, essential makeup, makeup wipes. Hairbrush. Small cube with clean undies, one top, and a sleep shirt. Cardigan. Converter, chargers, power supplies. Travel documents. Medicine. Jewelry. Spiral notebook. This way, if the airline loses the spinner for a day, I can manage.

Blow by blow series of photographs on packing below. Click to enlarge to read captions that explain how I pack.

If you looked at the blow-by-blow above, you’ll see the capsule wardrobe easily fit in the Travelpro 21″ Spinner — and I didn’t even put anything in the top part of the suitcase at all. And — it can still expand in width another two inches if I need it.

So is my Briggs and Riley tote full? Of course not! No, it’s very light. And it should be starting out . . . on most trips you return with more than you brought. In fact, I say, if you plan to do a little clothes shopping, whack that packing list up there down by at least one top and one bottom!

Briggs and Riley Transcend clamshell tote
I chose the Briggs and Riley Clamshell style tote because I like the fact it lays completely flat when unzipped. It makes packing so much easier.

*** For those of you wanting to know about specific products, the clothing is from Chico’s, the scarves are from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Hermès — a design called Bateau Fleuri, ballet flats and booties are Sam Edelman, and the driving shoes are from Cole Haan.

Fossil Maya Small Hobo, Steel Blue

Safe and happy travels!


Downton Abbey car packed with suitcases
Ah, well. Where’s Carson when you need him?

Review: Flying Emirates Business Class through Dubai to Africa

Traveling from Houston, Texas, to Lusaka, Zambia, was the longest trip my family had ever taken. We review our Emirates Business Class flight from Houston through Dubai to Lusaka, Zambia.

Arab Emirates plane
We flew Emirates Business Class through Dubai, on the way to our safari in Zambia. Photograph, iStock Photos.

Traveling from Houston, Texas, to Lusaka, Zambia, was the longest trip my family had ever taken.

Regardless of which route we might choose, we would be in transit for around 36 – 40 hours, with the flight and layover times combined. My sister and I looked at flights and carriers for weeks before choosing our Emirates flight through Dubai to Lusaka. We had friends who had raved about their experience flying Emirates to Rome the previous year.

There was no way I was going regular economy on these long flights. Our initial plan was to purchase Premium Economy seats — probably either through British Airways or KLM, but we watched ticket prices, and continued to look at all flight classes.

We were lucky; after watching fares for about three weeks on all airlines, we saw the Emirates business class on this flight fall by $1K per ticket (fall 2016), and we went for it. It was an airfare sale just after Thanksgiving. At that point, it was about $1.2K more per ticket than Premium Economy on the other airlines we were considering, so right at $4K per ticket. Yes, it was still expensive. Business class is.

One way to look at this. If we’re flying for 36 hours, the additional cost per hour to have business class seats on Emirates was $33 per hour, per person, for the trip.

Emirates Business Class Houston to Dubai
On Emirates, both food and service in business class were outstanding. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

While the total travel time was similar to the other carriers we looked at (Delta, British Airways, KLM, Air France, to name a few), it was the only airline that would get us there is one stop, rather than two. We would fly to Dubai, have an overnight layover, and get on a plane for our six hour flight to Lusaka at 9:30 the next morning.

One of the airlines I looked at had a total trip time that was shorter, but we would arrive in Lusaka at 1:35 a.m.! Who wants to arrive at a strange airport in Africa in the middle of the night, I ask you?

Business class is always such a treat! Photograph, Carolyn Fisher.

I’ve flown business class on Delta, British Airways, and KLM to Europe in the last few years. Emirates is in a class by itself. Included in our Emirates Business Class fare: Roundtrip limo service from my home to the Houston airport, hotel rooms at Le Meridien at the Dubai Airport — plus dinner and breakfast, and car service.

While we all know that the price of these services comes nowhere near the difference between a Premium Economy and Business Class ticket, it’s not chump change either. Roundtrip car service in Houston: $250, with tips. Overnight at Le Meridien is not expensive, $110 per room. Fine dinner and breakfast, $70 per person. I’d say one person could expect the value to be in the neighborhood of $400-$500 if you were traveling alone.

On our flights between Houston and Dubai, our Boeing 777-300ER did have the new lay-flat seats. Between Dubai and Lusaka, they were angled.

Add lay-flat beds on the fifteen hour flight – Houston to Dubai (17 hours on the return flight), then pitched-angle beds from Dubai to Lusaka, and only one airport stop instead of two, and we were pretty gosh-darned happy.

Note for those considering Emirates Business class: All Emirates Airbus A380 flights have lay flat seats in Business Class. Their Boeing 777-300ER have mixed equipment. Additionally, Emirates Boeing 777-300ER Business Class cabins are in a 2-3-2 configuration, which means there are three seats in the center. This is very poor design. I had the center seat, but since I knew my seat mates, it wasn’t so problematic to get out. Otherwise, I’d avoid that seat at all costs.

I dislike angled seats; I find them impossible to sleep in — so this is something to investigate if you have a flight leg on one of their Boeing 777-300ER planes. Check the flight equipment and call Emirates to be sure what to expect.

Emirates Business Class Food
Appetizer: Mezze — small plate of differently flavored hummus. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

The quality of service from every part of our experience with Emirates was outstanding. On the plane, business class service was comparable to my experience with British Airways and KLM, and a step up from my experience with Delta. It is in other ways that Emirates exceeds expectations: the limo service, hotel service, and small things like — rather than loading business and first class passengers first, they want you to relax in the lounge for as long as possible putting you onboard. There was still time for a glass of champagne!

Meal service on Emirates was very good. Better than business class on British Airways, KLM, or Delta? Um. I didn’t think so. About the same really.

The lamb dish I had on one of the dinners was particularly good — probably the best meal I’ve ever had in the air, otherwise, I thought the food was comparable. The soups were great, and my daughter was a big advocate of their desserts. The wines available were outstanding. Presentation of the food: appetizers, cheese plates, and desserts — outstanding. Entree presentation — not as appealing.

The I.C.E. entertainment system on Emirates was the most extensive I’ve ever seen. There were more than 2,500 movies and televisions shows to choose from, as well as a huge selection of games.

Emirates Business Class Bulgari Amenity package
The Emirates Business Class amenity package from Bulgari. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Amenities package, you ask? Bulgari, thank you very much; one of the nicest I’ve seen. The sleeping mask and socks came in a separate package, so the cosmetic bag was full of Bulgari lotion, perfume, tissues, a nice makeup compact, full-size toothbrush with holder, and a comb-brush. None of this is that important to me — I do use the mask, socks, and toothbrush, but don’t care much about the other things — but I know for some people this is a meaningful perk. Sorry guys. I didn’t  get a look at the male version of amenities :-).

Overall, we were very pleased with our decision to fly with Emirates, and I would certainly do it again. I fly a combination of classes, from regular economy to first class, and I make the choice depending on length of flight and ticket costs. The way I look at super-long flights is this: I consider what I’d spend on a nice hotel, drinks, a good dinner and wine, lunches, breakfasts, and then I look at the cost of the base ticket, premium economy, and business class. And then I make decisions. On our trip to Africa, the 36 hour transit time could have been awful — and instead, my daughter, my sister, and I had fun — we didn’t dread the trip coming home.

Interior of Dubai Airport
The airport in Dubai is modern and well-organized, — very easy for Americans, Canadians, and Europeans to navigate. However, and this is a big problem: the airport has a poor track record of adequate helped for the disabled. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Who Should Avoid Transit Through Dubai?

Many flights load from stairs on the tarmac at the Dubai airport.

People with mobility problems.

While many aspects of transit through Dubai were very easy, and I would certainly fly through this airport again, I wanted to note what I see as a big problem.

At the airport in Dubai, there is wheelchair service, but many flights load directly on the tarmac with steps. Our flights to and from Lusaka were like this. We saw one woman who’d had a wheelchair in the airport, go by foot on the bus out to the plane, and then climb the steps to board. I am not sure what they do for passengers who are not able to make this climb.

After doing further reading, it would seem that the airport in Dubai has a poor track record of working with passengers with disabilities, that there are often not enough wheelchairs for people who need them. Investigate further if this is a concern, either you, or someone in your party.

Dubai Airport exterior
Dubai Airport. Photograph, Shutterstock.

The Missed Connection

It happens. If you travel, every now and again, you’re going to miss your connecting flight, and yesterday, my number was up! A cheap airport hotel in Atlanta and a little travel humor :-).

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport
Missed Connection and an Overnight at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Photograph, iStock Photos.

It happens.

If you travel, every now and again, you’re going to miss your connecting flight, and yesterday, my number was up!

I was headed home from an anniversary party in Ohio, and the Delta flight to Atlanta was late arriving to the Akron-Canton airport. We were due to leave at 5:59 p.m., and I was at an itty-bitty concourse bar having a burger and a drink. The bartender knew about the delay first — we were set back to 7:00.

I looked at my watch, then my boarding pass. I was still good — I never fly through Atlanta with less than a two hour layover.

If you feel the need to join Team U*S*A, Drinking Division, here is their official t-shirt. I’m warning you though. If your silver-headed team mate from Detroit finds you, you may never get away!

The group at the bar was fine and companionable until an old woman walked up sporting a USA Drinking Team shirt. It was evident this team member had been training hard earlier in the day. Her speech was slurred and she was loud.

I finished my supper, paid my tab, and headed for the gate — the drunk’s voice seeming to go up another few decibels.

I felt sorry for the person who’d soon be shut up on a plane next to her. Thank god Team USA was heading to Detroit, not Atlanta, and her flight was on time.

When I took a seat at Gate 5, the Delta agent announced our flight time was pushed back to 7:42. That was it — we’d hit no-go. I wasn’t going to make the Houston flight.

Here’s where you have a decision point as a passenger. Re-book yourself now and find a hotel, or wait until you miss the connection and stand in line with everyone else to do the same thing — with fewer seat options. I chose now, no line, and an earlier bedtime. The Delta agent at Akron-Canton got me on a 8:00 a.m. Atlanta-to-Houston flight the next morning, and I got on Expedia to find a room near the Atlanta airport — figuring I’d see whether I could get a room credit from Delta the next day. One way or the other, I was not sleeping in the airport.

With this in mind, I looked at the options. There were everything from flea-bag motels, to Hyatt and Westin, to a Renaissance Hotel on the tarmac in Atlanta with mixed reviews and a high price tag. I went cheap/middle — the Red Lion for $104 — they had a restaurant, an airport shuttle, clean but basic rooms, and good reviews.

By the time our flight was finally wheels-up, it was after 8:00 p.m., and I was feeling self-satisfied about my decision.

I make it to my Atlanta Airport Red Lion hotel room — clean, very comfy bed, but thin walls, and my neighbor’s television is blaring. I settle in to do email and a little social media.

Blam, blam, blam — on my neighbor’s door. She is not pleased. “F*@k you, Tyrone! You go back to your room! I don’t wanna see your ugly f*@+**g face again tonight!”

It’s eleven o’clock. I sigh. Tyrone leaves.

I edit a few photographs, do a little writing, and finally turn off the light around midnight. Thirty minutes later, another loud knocking out in the hallway.

“I done tol’ you, I don’t wanna see your face again . . . go AWAY!”

I look at the clock and consider calling the desk. And I’m thinking, “F*@k you, Tyrone. GO to BED!”

Yeah, the $104 hotel was a mistake, but there’s no whining on Team Fisher.

That wake up call to make the 8:00 a.m. flight came mighty early, but I was on it.

Delta flight leaves Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Photograph, iStock Photos.
Delta flight leaves Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Photograph, iStock Photos.

Do Airlines Have to Pay for a Hotel If I Miss a Connecting Flight?

The answer to that question is NO.

I did get $100 credit for use on a future flight with Delta. When I called the following day, the agent put me on hold, researched the reason for the delay of my flight, and then issued the credit to my Delta Skymiles account.

Be aware that airlines are NOT REQUIRED to cover hotel expenses AT ALL, even when a delayed flight/missed connection is considered their company’s fault. 

D.O.T. (Department of Transportation): 

  • Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting in the airport terminal.
  • There are no Federal requirements regarding these amenities or services.  If you are delayed, ask the airline staff if they will pay for meals or phone calls.  Some airlines may not offer amenities if bad weather or something else beyond the airline’s control causes the delay. — from the D.O.T. web site

You must refer to a specific airline’s contract for carriage (also called conditions of carriage) for accurate information concerning what that company will do in the event of a flight delay. Policies vary widely. Delta’s domestic contract for carriage is over fifty pages long. You might want to read your airline’s contract — so that you understand exactly what their policies are.

Links to Airline Contracts of Carriage
Alaska American
Air France Alitalia
British Airways  Delta
Frontier  JetBlue
Iberia  KLM
Luftansa  Qantas
Southwest  Spirit
United  Virgin Atlantic
Minute Suites in Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.
Minute Suites in Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. An option when you want to crash for a couple of hours.

Parting Thoughts

Stuck in the airport, but not long enough to get a hotel?

I did see an interesting option at the Atlanta airport on my way to Ohio called Minute Suites: The Traveler’s Retreat. At Minute Suites, you can rent a room with a daybed, a pillow, and a desk for as little as an hour. I was intrigued, and stopped to chat with the man at the desk. Currently, Minute Suites are only in three airports: Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Dallas-Fort Worth, but they are expanding to others.

This is not an inexpensive option, as you’ll see if you click through to the Minute Suites website (Minute Suites Pricing). The first hour will run you $42, and then another $10.50 for each fifteen minute increment. Eight hours? That’ll be $160, please.

My $104 overnight at the Red Lion, even with soundtrack by Tyrone and Friends, is looking like a bargain. After all, I did get about 5 hours of quiet sleep, once the ruckus was over :-).

But you know, when you’re dead tired, and you only have a couple of hours — a solid nap can be priceless . . .

Miami In, Miami Out

I like airports. This is a good thing, since I seem to be spending more and more time in them. I arrive early, often very early. I have a meal, I watch people, and I write. Often I chat with one group and then another, kind of like Forrest Gump on his bus bench.

Picasso line drawing, The Camel.

I like airports. This is a good thing, since I seem to be spending more and more time in them.

Forrest Gump on bench
Forrest Gump in transit.

I arrive early, often very early. I have a meal, I watch people, and I write.

Often I chat with one group and then another, kind of like Forrest Gump on his bus bench.

Why? I like a quiet transition time as I move from one place to another. I hate rushing. I aim for serenity.

I’ve been in an out of the Miami airport a number of times in the last fourteen months or so because there are no direct flights from Houston down to the parts of the Caribbean I’ve visited.

I would have to say that the airport code MIA is, well, interesting. But I’ve found it a pleasant airport — plenty of shopping and restaurants, good way-finding, and a distinctive decor. The people are nice. I like nice people.

When I was having lunch at the Miami airport this morning, I saw myself on my way back from Barbados; I was tired — it was just after that Atlantic crossing. Then I saw myself following my sister on our way down to our first cruise on Royal Clipper. Not long afterwards, I saw myself on the way to Sint Maarten — I had just bought those Ray-bans that I didn’t know I was about to lose on the floor of the airplane.

I believe that airports are wormholes.

Well, really, I think all places are wormholes, but the ones we live in have so many tracings back and forth we often don’t see particular memories with such clarity. Think of it as comparing a Jackson Pollock painting to a Picasso line drawing . . .

Number One. Jackson Pollock.

So, I am here with my line tracings in and out of MIA.

It may be time for a margarita . . .

Signing off  — Ann

MIA. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

Thank you for visiting! 

I’m writing and traveling full-time now, and if you like my work, please subscribe to my blog via email.


The Truth about Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines Airbus A321
Spirit Airlines. Photograph from 123RF stock photos.

There are things you should know before booking a flight with Spirit Airlines.

So, you need to book a flight, and you want to know how it is to fly with Spirit Airlines.

I’ve taken my first Spirit Airlines trip, and it was an experience.

There’s a lot not to like about Spirit. Who is Spirit Airlines? If Spirit were a person, its personality would be a lot like Ben Baldanza, who was CEO of the airline until January 2016. He had quite an attitude and was was very in your face. Basically, if you don’t like it the way we do business, well, f*@#k you. It will be interesting to see whether  the new CEO, Robert Fornaro, brings a different outlook to the company.

Spirit airline customer
Who is the Spirit customer? Young and hip, older with limited income — they serve a wide range of people. Photograph, Ann Fisher

Spirit glories in its reputation for cheap, you pay for everything way of doing business.

I’ll tell you a little secret — their target market doesn’t care. Or more accurately, it won’t stop them from flying Spirit.

Who is their target market? On my flight to New Orleans, I saw a lot of young, über-hip fliers. There was a delightful, young couple with their baby who sat next to me. Baby Annabelle and her parents were headed for spur of the moment weekend get-away in NOLA. I saw working class middle-agers. And I saw the elderly. In other words, Spirit serves a lot of people who probably couldn’t afford to fly on regular carriers. At least not very often.

It’s important to have low cost airlines in the transportation mix. Years ago, Southwest Airlines played this role. There used to be something called the Southwest effect, described by Vinay Bhaskara as “when low cost Southwest Airlines entered a market, fares tended to drop and market volume tended to increase.” This isn’t the case anymore. Increasingly, Southwest Airlines charges as much as all of the other carriers. There is a place for Spirit in the air market.

To offer the incredibly cheap fares they advertise, Spirit’s services are completely unbundled. And that means you pay for everything separately. EVERYTHING.

Spirit airlines sign $100 carry on bag policy
Thought you’d avoid bag charges by taking yours onboard? Man, you are SCREWED.

If you’ve never flown on Spirit before, I warn you — read carefully about the extra charges. Carry-on luggage? If it doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you, you will pay for it. If you pay when you buy your ticket, it’s not too bad. The longer you wait to buy the bags, the more it’s going to cost you.

And if you think you’ll somehow avoid paying these fees and try to board the airline with your suitcase — well, that will be $100, please.

So what are the bag fees? You’ll find an example from a flight from Houston to New Orleans below.

But hey, it also means that if you just want to fly somewhere without luggage, you have a very cheap flight.

Oh, and they charge for everything else, too. Want a counter representative to print your boarding pass? $10. Would you like a snack? How about some mixed nuts . . . $4, please. Like a cocktail? Have two and save 3 bucks. Want to pick your seat? Pony up. One of the larger seats in the front? Oh, big spender, you are speaking my language. Want to reschedule your flight? Okay, bend over now; and if you want lube for that, you guessed it — that will be EXTRA.

Personally, I didn’t have a problem with the charges. I knew about them; I thought the website was very clear about what to expect, and I had no surprises. I booked the flight three days out, and Spirit, even with the extra charges, was less than half the price of the other airlines.

Example of Spirit Airlines extra charges.
Example of Spirit Airlines bag charges.
Spirit's menu
Spirit’s refreshment menu. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I find Spirit’s graphic design and ad choices fun. Perfect for the cheap and cheesy way the company does things. But, um . . . they stole them.

It’s a great advertising story from 2015. When Scoot Airlines (Asian market) realized that Spirit’s new graphics and branding brazenly copied theirs, they turned it into a media campaign of their own.

Highly entertaining marketing and public relations slap! Spirit remains impervious to the criticism . . . remember this is the company that posts “State of the Hate” videos.

Scoot Airlines CEO calls out Spirit Airlines for copying their branding.
Scoot Airlines CEO calls out Spirit Airlines for copying their branding. Scoot turned it into an advertising coup, making fun of the theft. Link to the Saatchi site to watch the video.
Cheap, cheap Spirit airlines seat.
Spirit Airlines seat. The “tray” looks like a pocket notebook. Hey, and don’t even think about storing anything in the seat back “pocket”.

Next up is seat comfort. This is the cheapest looking and feeling seat I have ever seen. Tightest legroom imaginable and the seats do not recline. Spirit sold this idea by telling you that it’s “pre-reclined.” I like it. They can spin anything. I’m not a tall person, so handling this for a short flight isn’t a problem. If you are tall, please look at the picture of the hip young man above. There is no room for long legs.

Spirit Airlines Biggest Problem?

If you care about getting somewhere on time, you don’t want to risk flying Spirit.

According to Fortune magazine, Spirit Airline’s rating shows they have the worst on-time performance record of any airline in the country. Only 49.9% of their flights arrive on time. My experience is right in line with that — on time to New Orleans, 45 minutes late back to Houston.

If you are making a multi-leg trip where making connections is key, hhmmm. Flying Spirit is not a great idea, because there is a high probability you could miss your connecting flight.

In his blog, View from the Wing, Gary Leff puts it this way, “The biggest issue is that they [Spirit] don’t have a big, redundant route network. That’s at the heart of their business model, it’s how they make money. But it also makes them less reliable . . . When a flight cancels or faces a significant delay there aren’t a lot of alternate ways to get you to your destination.” It’s not surprising that Fortune magazine also reports that Spirit Airlines has the most complaints of any airline in the U.S..

Did I enjoy flying Spirit? No, not really, but it wasn’t bad either. Would I fly Spirit again? Yes. But only a direct flight to places where an on time arrival isn’t a big deal.

Let’s put it this way. I won’t be getting rid of my Delta Skymiles American Express card anytime in the near future.

By the way, the Fortune article listed Delta Airlines as having an over 82% on-time record.

Update: Overweight Bag Charges

I flew Spirit in December 2016 — a cheap flight from Orlando to Houston, even with paying for a checked bag.

One thing I did NOT realize: Spirit has a 40 lb. limit on their checked bags! All other domestic carriers in the USA have 50 lb. limit. So, if you are thinking you will carry a larger suitcase and not take a carry-on, which Spirit charges for, think again.

This caught me unawares. I always pay attention to my bag weight. My suitcase is a standard checked-bag size — not over-sized, and I never have a problem going over 50 lbs. — but it never occurred to me that Spirit had a lower weight limit (okay, it should have occurred to me, but it didn’t). My bag weighed 42 lbs. – so, that will be an extra $30 please — Cha-ching! Just another thing to be aware of and to plan for if you plan to fly Spirit.

Spirit Airlines: Overweight Bag Charges
41 – 50 lbs. (18 – 23 kg) + $30
51 – 70 lbs. (23 – 32 kg) + $55
71 – 100 lbs. (32 – 45 kg) + $100
63-80 linear inches (158-203 cm) + $100
Special items over 80 linear inches (203 cm) + $150

Another note on my December trip: the flights were on time, and at the Houston airport, Spirit had added an additional employee at the ticket counter to assist passengers with the self-service kiosks. Customer service at the counters on both ends seems to have improved from my first experience last March.

My take-away again: If you are going to fly Spirit, do your homework. Be VERY aware of their extra charges for everything. Be wary of planning trips with connecting flights, since Spirit’s on-time record is the worst in the industry.

April 2017 Update: Spirit Airlines is Shrinking the Size of Personal Items Allowed Onboard. Yes, that’s right — pony up, big boy. You’ll be paying more for bringing things onboard. Read the Travel and Leisure article for full details: Your Baggage Allowance on Spirit Airlines is Smaller

Ann Cavitt Fisher in Castolon, Texas. Photograph, Jim Stevens.
At Castolon, in Big Bend National Park, Texas. Photograph, Jim Stevens.

About Ann

I grew up in Mississippi and New Orleans, have lived in both Seattle and Manhattan, and finally moved back to Texas in 1990’s.

I have a darling teenage daughter who heads off to university in the fall of 2017. I have been divorced and am now widowed. Finally, I am a colon cancer survivor.

I am now writing and traveling full time — what a wonderful thing!

This website is a forum for many things. I want to talk about life, in all of its rich, wonderful and terrifying forms. I want to share my travels, my thoughts on life, and my experiences as a woman and a mom. I want to talk about the nature of reality and the meaning of life, and to celebrate being alive.

Thank you for visiting! 

I’m writing and traveling full-time now, and if you like my work, please subscribe to my blog via email.

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Other articles on Spirit Airlines

Bhaskara, Vinay. “Has “The Spirit Effect” Replaced ” The Southwest Effect?” – Airchive.” Airchive. N.p., 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

Chew, Jonathan. “These Airlines Finished Last in the Latest On-time List.” Fortune These Airlines Finished Last in the Latest Ontime List Comments. 11 Aug. 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

Elliott, Christopher. “A Tale of Two Airlines.” National Geographic Travel. Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

Leff, Gary. “Why I Won’t Fly Spirit Airlines – View from the Wing.” View from the Wing. 12 July 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.