Sunday, December 6, 2009

Atlantic City Airport & Spirit Airlines

Let's start off by remembering that Jonathan and I fly a LOT. Both together and individually, we've hit many of the major airports in this country, and quite a few small ones as well. We have favorite airports and airports we avoid. We've had our share of troubles at various airports (like flying back to Cali from FL in March), but this was a unique experience, and worth sharing if for no other reason than so you know to avoid this airport and airline (although we did find out that some people like Spirit).

Let's start by explaining why we decided to go to an airport 60 miles away when PHL is around the corner, and how we booked little-known Spirit. Well... it's kinda simple. We didn't get around to booking Thanksgiving flights until less than a month before the holiday. So we took the cheapest we could get... and even though it's about $100 more than we usually pay to fly roundtrip from Philly to Orlando, it was the cheapest flight for those dates by faaaaaaar. And then we actually forgot it was on Spirit. For some reason we both thought it was on Southwest, and planned accordingly (meaning we intended on checking a bag, since that's free on Southwest).

Well, we go to check-in online the day before the flight and realize that it's Spirit and that Spirit doesn't let you choose your own seat unless you want to pay an extra $13-30. Okay, so we use two computers and do every step of the check-in at the exact same time so we can get seated together. Miraculously, that worked out well... except for the fact that we ended up toward the very back of the plane (the same thing happened when we checked-in for the return flight).

Fast-forward to the next day where we've loaded up the car and entered the airport location into the GPS. We proceed with plenty of time on our side, since we had no idea how traffic would be. All goes pretty smoothly until the GPS turned out not to have an updated map of part of the Atlantic City Expressway. We went right instead of left at a fork (or vice-versa, I forget) and it ended up needing to re-route us. NORMALLY, this is not a big deal. BUT in New Jersey, there are no U-turns for much of the state. Instead, they have the jug-handle system where you take a right and do a loop to make a left or a U-turn. We've encountered this many times already (we have some in our area of PA as well), but on the specific road we were on, there was no way to do this for a good couple miles.

Okay, we get turned around and back on the right road. We're now like 15 miles from the airport and there's no signs for it yet. Then we get off the highway (and pay a 75-cent exact-change toll) and see a sign for the airport. But, as we're driving a rental, we need gas so we can return it full. And this is really where things start going wrong. Using the GPS to show the nearest station (there were no signs of either when we exited the expressway), we drove in the opposite direction as the airport sign. There is no gas station (or evidence of one long gone) at the specified location, so we continue onward. There's one whopping gas station, and, of course, the jug-handle gets the better of us again so we have to turn around a couple times to get there. And then to head back to the airport we have to go use another one to turn around again.

We get back to the place where we got off the highway, and still have a good amount of time to get to the airport, so while a little stressed at the failure of the GPS to find a gas station, no biggie. Until there are no more signs for the airport. We're following the GPS in lieu of signs, and it is just completely wrong. It took us down at least three wrong roads. It wanted us to turn twice where there were no roads... just fields. Once it wanted us to get back on the highway, but we knew that was wrong. We couldn't even see the airport. We saw no planes landing or taking off. There were no other cars around so we could say "let's follow them and hope for some luck!" We went for broke and tried just being smart about what direction the airport is in (in addition to the GPS, we also had a map up). That didn't help, either. Time was ticking away and I began to imagine us dashing through the airport (a la "Run, Run, Rudolph" from Home Alone) when we finally got there. We went back to the last sign we saw, and tried following it again. Nope... back out in the middle of nothing. We went to the sign before that one (and at this point we've gone quite a few extra miles) and tried following it again. I realized it was wrong about which exit to take from a roundabout when a non-reflective ACY sign caught my eye at the last moment. After that we were fine and led straight to the airport via signs (the GPS lost all credibility at this point... we need to upgrade the maps... it has been like three years since we bought it).

We think we're in the clear since it's a smaller airport. We figure dropping off the car will be quick and we'll just walk straight to the main building and proceed from there. Nope. We follow the signs for Avis (which are poorly marked) and end up in a parking garage. No signs, nobody in the booths, nobody around at all, except one couple heading into a vehicle. We decide to park and I unload the car as Jonathan tried to figure out where in the world to turn it in. As it turns out, you fill out all the info yourself (odometer, gas reading, etc.), then drop off your card and keys inside the building. So, as he did that, I took as much as I could and made for the terminal (we had to get one bag checked-in on time). Of course I was given bad directions to Spirit's check-in... that's just the kind of luck we were having. I make it to the area where we need to drop off the bag, but there's a line. I look at my watch and realize that I'm probably fine... but still antsy. I fill out the stuff (again, mind you) and wait for the name to be called when Jonathan arrived.

There was no line for security, but it still took a really long time. The bananas I had in my shoulder bag set off some concern by the x-ray guy, so I was pulled aside to to be checked further. In the end they swabbed my bag and then let me go. We got to the terminal and after a few minutes they were announcing that they do free gate-checking if anyone would like to have that comfort. We jumped at the chance. (if you're unaware, gate-checking allows you to have them put a carry-on sized bag into the luggage compartment for no charge. You keep it until you get to the gate, and it's pulled off right away and you have it as soon as you come out of the gate at your destination. It's nice so you don't have to lug it through the narrow aisle and then lift it up to fit into the overhead bins.)

The begin to call the zones, and it's done very poorly. They call for 1, then add in 2, 3, AND 4 all at once, so it gets unmanageable. Regardless, we board without incident and quickly find ourselves in one of the smallest planes (comfort-wise) EVER. My shoulder bag wouldn't even fit under the seat, and Jonathan was hard-pressed to get his backpack under there. The curve of the wall made the window seat a little unfriendly, and the armrests didn't go completely vertical to get out of the way. My knees hit the seat in front of me... I can't imagine how smushed someone over 6 feet tall would be!

Upon takeoff we were told that it would be a smooth flight. It wasn't. Almost the entire way it was rather bumpy. Beverages (even water) were $3. The landing was really rough, and the plane did an uneven bounce after touching down.

We get off the plane only to be told that when Spirit "gate-checks," you claim your items at baggage. So we're off to baggage, where the conveyor belt was having issues. Eventually we get our items with no problem (all three bags ended up being within the first 20 items or so), but by that point we were really in no mood to deal with any other obstacles anyway!!

Fast-forward ten days. We're in Orlando taking off on Spirit, heading for Atlantic City. No problems checking in or going through security (MCO really is an awesome airport). Boarding had a similar problem to last time, but we got up during "zone 1" and just stood near the line until "2 and 3" were added. No idea why they do this. The plane was again small, but the last few rows (we were in 24 again) either had missing people or weren't sold, so there was enough space. My bag fit under the seat without incident, and Jonathan just put his in the overhead bin to avoid the potential complications.

The flight was smooth and seemed to pass by relatively quickly (of course there were many fewer crying babies than last time, haha). When we landed in ACY, the path to baggage claim was slow and crowded. For some reason we had to go through a tube-like vertical space that completely enclosed before letting you out again before we could reach the bag room. Items were already all over the conveyor belt, but it wasn't moving and we couldn't reach either of our "gate-checked" bags. After a few minutes, Jonathan pulled off our bags as soon as they came close enough, in case the belt stopped moving again, LoL. We walked over to the rental car building, were given a Hyundai Sonata (only full-size car left), and drove nearly a mile before the GPS found us and we could be on our way home.

We've completely black-listed that airport, and we're so against the airline that we didn't even bother to create accounts to keep track of the miles we just accrued. Maybe it's a fluke, but we doubt it.

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