Spirit Airlines Passenger Melts Down, Pounds Gate Door: Showing Up ‘Two Minutes Early’ Not Enough

Spirit Airlines passengers bound for San Juan showed up at their gate a couple minutes prior to scheduled departure. They didn’t understand why the boarding gate was closed. They weren’t just there on time, they were early!

The thing about Spirit Airlines passengers is that they are disproportionately infrequent travelers, who may fly because the tickets are cheap (and may fly instead of driving or taking the bus because of the cheap fares). So maybe they do not know this, but:

  • What’s the point of banging on the door? Who do they think is back there? It’s not like that is the airline’s management office, with someone empowered to re-open boarding waiting just behind it?

  • The departure time isn’t the time you’re supposed to show up. It’s the time the plane is supposed to leave. Your airline will be boarding generally 30-50 minutes prior to that, depending on aircraft and carrier. They may give your seats away 15 minutes before departure if you aren’t there and there are passengers waiting. And the doors probably close (not to be re-opened) 10 minutes before departure.

It probably even says the boarding time on your boarding pass, and some airlines also print “gate close” time as well.

Take that into account when deciding when to leave for the airport (factoring in traffic, parking if applicable, in-person check-in or checking of bags if needed, security and the time to get through the airport). Take that into account when deciding whether or not to stop for that Starbucks enroute – or whether even to use the bathroom in the terminal or just on board the aircraft.

Most people actually don’t cut it close, they show up too early. They go straight to their gate, just to make sure that it exists, before venturing off to go get something to eat even. And even with half a hour to boarding, many passengers are afraid that something might happen if they don’t stay right there. That’s why some concessions companies in airports have iPads or mobile ordering at the gate – and deliver food there – because it increases their sales from people unwilling to take boarding risk for retail.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. They should probably help make it clear to the much less informed that gate doors will close 10 minutes prior to departure when most of the passengers are on board. One person missing won’t stop the other 150 people from missing their connections elsewhere.

    Then again, this kind of info is out there on the web and can be found easily, so no sympathy for the guy who decided to show up late to the door.

  2. What’s the source of the data that Spirit’s passengers are disproportionally infrequent travelers?

    It’s printed on Spirit’s paper boarding passes “Doors close 15 minutes before departure.”

  3. Well, now they know. Part of learning about flying.

    I remember back in the 80s when Southwest Airlines would actually hold the door open waiting for the last two missing passengers — me and my Dad — at Love Field in Dallas to ensure we made our flight.

  4. * They go straight to their gate, just to make sure that it exists*..HAHA..yep I usually do this if I’m early for a variety of reasons..verify if the plane is at the gate..check if there’s seating and power outlets available when I do come back to the gate after exploring..maybe there’s a interesting restaurant/bar I’d rather post up at next to the gate..checking to see if it’s still my actual gate (although with the digital age I usually get notified on my phone first if there’s a gate change)

  5. Of course you check the gate. Once in a while it turns out to be wrong. And if you don’t know the airport it’s best to find it first.

  6. I always check the gate when I arrive at the airport. If the planes not there, I use Flightaware to see if it was delayed or in route. I had a Delta flight that was the first of three legs. I received notification. It had been delayed an hour and the gate changed. When I went to the gate, it wasn’t even a Delta gate. They were staging everybody out of the way. I immediately before everyone else went to customer service and found an alternate route before they canceled the flight for a mechanical. I was on an alternate flight in the air before most of the other people ever made it to custom service. I assume every flight I book is going to be delayed or canceled and always have alternative plans. For connecting flights I’m now plan as long a layover as possible. I recently did a six hour layover in Atlanta and after being delayed for three hours was thankful. Otherwise I would’ve missed the only flight out to Tokyo that day.

  7. I’m pretty sure no one is driving or taking the bus to San Juan, regardless of ticket costs, just saying.

  8. We are not better off with these super low fare airlines. It’s brought in a new class of people who never had to be at the airport before..

  9. It’s also possible that these ladies were on a connecting flight which arrived very late.

  10. I would expect some one as “experienced” as you claim to be @gary, that even you know they don’t just close the boarding door and disapear…. golly, I wonder if people are indeed behind that door.

    I’ll tell ya, they won’t pop out until the situation is addressed.

  11. Many many years ago, when anybody could go to the gate, I accompanied my mother in law to her gate and found it had just closed. I just opened the door and let her go through.

    She got on her plane and nobody chastised me.
    Times have changed.

  12. To NedsKid says: Anecdotal evidence is the “data source.” If you’ve ever made the mistake of taking Spirit–which most of us do only once unless we’re masochists–you’ll quickly suss out that virtually none of the other passengers are experienced travellers. And the commenter that reasoned that they may have been coming from a massively delayed flight could be correct, but that still doesn’t excuse banging on the door like a fool.

  13. Back in the day before 19 creeps flew planes into the WTC I dashed through the JFK terminal for an American Airlines flight gate after they had almost closed the plane door. The cabin crew opened the door for me and once inside, many of the passengers applauded as I raced for my seat because it was largely my bunch going to a conference together.

    Obviously, that can never happen today as we spend trillions of dollars to make sure a religious group cannot show their displeasure by taking planes out of the sky.

  14. To Jay Zurell: I’ve taken Spirit by choice a few dozen times in the last year (riding to Orlando in a Big Front Seat for $50 all in, and having Gold Status is not bad at all…. and I was only really significantly delayed once). And honestly I’ve seen as many inexperienced people on United and American and others, if not more when they see a basic fare on one of those and go with it because of the big airline brand recognition. Spirit does get a ton of repeat frequent travelers, especially people going between homes (who aren’t taking much with them each time).

    On the flip side, seeing some people inexperienced, like on Allegiant yesterday, everybody was at the airport and boarded ontime and we pushed 10 minutes early. And no gate lice. And people on board taking care on things like “oh, ooops, my seat is this row, not that row, let me move my bag to be above me…)

  15. There is a humorous website, “People of Wal-Mart.”

    It is time for a site called “People of Spirit Airlines.”

  16. What is the point in mentioning this airlines by name? This could have happened in any airlines.
    And the fact that this airlines has inexperienced travelers? Really? We are going to turn up our noses on a budget friendly airlines? We are going to tell the travelers on this airlines, oh yeah you are not experienced in flying on a plane. Talk about priviliged class bias.
    Yes the person should have known better then banging in the doors but we don’t know her circumstances. Judging others is easy

  17. I flew UA out of EWR, got to the gate at the exact boarding start time and stood there for :25 minutes – WITH NO ANNOUNCEMENTS! We departed late. Upon landing, I got a text: sorry we departed late but we arrived early into IAH. the capt announced our 2 gates (777 requires 2 gates in some areas at IAH) were occupied. we arrived at the gate :25 minutes late.

    The point being, the spirit customers were checked in, the gate agents know this. The high number of times the airline is late – it’s I’m sorry: the one time you are – you’re F****D.

  18. Ignorance is not a crime.

    Many people don’t know things because it’s not their world.
    We should make things as easy and obvious as possible

    Why not print on the original itinerary
    “Spirit flight #123. Final boarding 10 am. Takeoff 1040 am. “

    The ticket does say the boarding time STARTS but many times it’s not always obvious what time the doors close

    Everyone on this blog understands all this because we have flown tons of times.

    However, this reminds me of when I tried to cross the street in Vietnam. It is extraordinarily difficult if you’ve never done it before. (Seriously)
    I can’t count how many times I had to help American tourists buy a metro pass in Paris
    Sometimes you just have to have help

    It really is OK to not know things

    Unfortunately, we also have willful ignorance, which is a different situation. But I’ll tell you what: many people who are willfully ignorant or also in very high positions of political or economic power?

  19. The infrequent travelers who would benefit from this article would be very unlikely to read it. Those reading most articles on this site generally are well traveled, with an interest in aviation. These words are just blowing in the wind over the heads of those who would benefit. Just sayin’.

  20. This woman is another imbalanced twit, a dreg of society. The minute some passenger shows up inappropriately dressed (pajamas, scantily clad, saggy pants, etc.) or exhibits poor general behavior and poor impulse control, they should not be permitted to board the plane and taken OUT of the airport immediately and altogether. If one can’t act decently in public, control yourself and your kids in public, not smell like a farm animal, then stay away from others…period. Too many losers running around in public today and we just continue to tolerate unacceptable behavior. And if you can’t figure out what “acting decently” entails, you’re exactly the type who creates these societal problems for others.

  21. if she printed a boarding pass, they knew she was at the airport… most airlines would wait as long as they could for her before they closed the gate. Ive had them call me by name over the intercom as I was running down the terminal since they knew I was there, but not on the plane.

  22. It gets really awkward for us pilots when late passengers show up after the gate door is closed. Often the cockpit windows are about 20 feet from the terminal window. After pounding on the door they come to the window.

    Sometimes we’re there for 10 or 15 minutes because of traffic or a minor mechanical issue

    I’ve tried different strategies: ignoring, waving back, shoulder shrugging—it just always feels awkward.

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