GREEN The Akron-Canton Airport (CAK) welcomed its first Spirit Airlines flight with water cannons blasted from airport fire engines and handheld "Welcome to CAK Spirit!" signs.
After 10 years of negotiations, Spirit finally arrived in Canton on Nov. 10.
The yellow plane made a smooth landing on the tarmac, arriving early from Ft. Lauderdale. With that inaugural flight, Spirit commenced with nonstop daily service to Orlando, Tampa, Ft. Myers, and Ft. Lauderdale. After April 27, Spirit will also add routes to Las Vegas and seasonal routes Myrtle Beach. These routes are not served by any other airline at CAK, but they are available out of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) through Spirit.
Spirit’s CEO Bob Fornaro said Northeast Ohio travelers can support both locations.
"The area is certainly big enough. We’re comfortable being in both," he said.
In fact, he said, the service can be used complementary. Staff from Spirit flew into CLE for the press event, but will be returning to Ft. Lauderdale via CAK.
Before the plane’s arrival, five local residents competed for an opportunity to win four years of free Spirit flights for them and a friend. Nearly 10,000 entrants registered for a chance to win the grand prize at yellowoutohio.com and the finalists were randomly drawn. At the press event, a large map with the new Spirit destinations was laid out on the floor. The finalists each picked one of the five Florida destinations and stood by the corresponding red dot on the map.
Ryan Smith, of North Canton, won the grand prize by choosing Tampa. He joked that it would have to be his first destination by default. Starting this month, Smith and a friend will be able to fly for free on Spirit once every month for the next four years as long as the flight starts out of CAK. Baggage for him and a guest will also be complimentary.
Smith, who works in marketing at the University of Mt. Union, said his girlfriend would be his number one guest and she was probably the most excited. When he won, she let out a whoop that echoed in the old hangar. Smith heard about the contest from a coworker and took a few minutes out of his day to enter, not thinking much would come from it.
"It’s incredible. It really is. I came in with realistic expectations," said Smith.
While the 22-year-old hasn’t built up enough vacation time to fly off every month, he is already planning to use one of the flights to Myrtle Beach for an upcoming family vacation.
"I’ve never been to most of these places," said Smith. From high school, he went straight to college and right into the workforce following graduation.
The other finalists received a free flight via Spirit as a consolation prize.
Spirit is known for its ultra-low-cost fares with prices 40 percent lower than the average flight. Called "bare fare", the only real item included in the purchase is the seat on the plane. Customers pay extra for snacks, printed boarding passes, drinks including water, and any luggage including carry-on that they wish to bring. Spirit has been criticized for hidden fees and Fornaro said he is committed to reducing customer complaints, which are among the highest in the U.S. airline industry. Still, Spirit continues to grow with CAK as its 58th destination.