The airline was founded in 1980, in Macomb County, Michigan, as Charter One, providing travel packages to various destinations, such as Atlantic City, Las Vegas and the Bahamas.
Ten years later, Charter One introduced scheduled flights from Boston and Providence, R.I., to Atlantic City.
During late May, 1992, Charter One introduced jets into the fleet, changing its name to Spirit Airlines and starting service from Detroit to Atlantic City.
In April, 1993, scheduled flights to Florida were introduced, and the ailine continued its expansion in the following five years, adding new routes to the network, including Los Angeles and New York.
In December, 1999, the headquarters were relocated from Eastpointe, Michigan to a new 56,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility in Miramar, Florida.
In 2006, Spirit Airlines launched the “free Spirit” frequent flyer program.
In November, 2001, a fully integrated Spanish-language customer service plan was implemented, and regular flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico were introduced.
In the following years, Spirit Airlines continued to expand its network, and in early March, 2007, the transition to the first ultra-low-cost carrier in the US began.
Despite the fact that in 2008, Spirit had the highest number of complaints per passenger among U.S. airlines that carried over 5 million passengers, the airline was one of the few that generated net profit during the recession, cashing in $50 million for 2009.
Starting August 1, 2010, Spirit Airlines started to charge for carry-on bags. Spirit Airlines’ carry-on bag program has proven successful for both the airline and customers. It has helped speed the boarding process and reduce the airline’s fuel consumption rate, ensuring sufficient overhead space is available for all carry-on bags.
In 2010, Spirit Plus was rebranded as “Big Front Seat”, larger seats in front of the plane that are available for online purchase for a fee, during or after a booking, based on availability.
In 2011, Spirit Airlines started to charge a fee to passengers who have their boarding passes printed by the check-in agent and reduced the weight limit for checked luggage from 50 pounds per bag to 40 pounds per bag.
In 2012, Spirit Airlines and Airbus entered into an agreement for the firm order of 20 Airbus A321 aircraft scheduled for delivery between 2015 and 2017.
In October 2016, Spirit Airlines took delivery of its first A320neo aircraft, becoming the first US airline to receive the new narrow-body Airbus. The ultra-low-cost carrier has a total of 55 A320neos on order, scheduled for delivery through 2021.
In May 2018, Spirit Airlines announced that it is the first ultra-low-cost carrier to have high-speed Wi-Fi installed on its entire fleet. The entire fleet is expected to be finished in 2019, and high-speed web browsing and streaming options will be available at an average price of $6.50.
In 2019, Spirit Airlines was operating approximately 600 daily flights to 72 destinations in the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean with an all-Airbus fleet.
In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, soft demand had a significant impact on Spirit Airlines’ operations and operating results. From April to June, the airline cut flight capacity by 95-75% from the year earlier. However, the leading low-cost structure was a key advantage, and the overall capacity in the fourth quarter was about 25% lower than year-ago levels. Spirit Airlines lost $428.7 million in 2020, its first annual net loss since at least 2007.
In 2021, Spirit Airlines started the year expecting to get back to 2019 capacity levels by midyear, but the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic have lasted longer than anyone could have predicted. After a challenging second quarter of 2021, when it lost $288 million, Spirit Airlines was forced to scale back its recovery plans by the surge in Covid-19 cases and its own staffing-related operational issues in August. However, the airline is still larger than two years ago, after adding eight new destinations to its map, including a large 30-route expansion from Miami International Airport in October.
No deadly incidents involving Spirit Airlines (or Charter One) have been recorded so far.