Forged floor revel in regardless of a gadget outage. Unfastened sodas, espresso and tea with reasonably priced meals and alcohol. Carrier higher than many legacy airways.
Tight pitch — except you pay for a greater seat. Nearly no inflight leisure or facilities. No A/C energy shops.
Desiring to get from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota (MSP), to the New York Town house on a Wednesday morning, I checked Google Flights for my choices. Whilst American, Delta and United additionally introduced nonstop flights, I used to be curious to check out out Solar Nation for the primary time. The airline has had a tumultuous historical past since its founding in 1982, with a couple of bankruptcies and ceasing operations a couple of occasions.
In 2017, Solar Nation’s new house owners deserted the airline’s try at being a full-service service and transitioned to an extremely low cost service. Since then, it’s added new luggage charges, remodeled its loyalty program and expanded to new locations. The airline has additionally gotten dangerous press for forgetting to load a whole flight’s checked luggage and indefinitely stranding a whole flight’s price of passengers in Mexico.
Whilst I’d heard about those horror tales, I nonetheless hadn’t heard a lot about what the Solar Nation revel in used to be like. So my spouse, Katie, and I made up our minds to take a look at the extremely low cost service for ourselves. Simply in case, I made positive to ebook the flight the use of a bank card with forged shuttle protections.
After pricing out the choices on Google Flights, I clicked via to ebook the flight immediately on Solar Nation. We discovered that we simply took place to desire a flight at the most cost-effective date of the week, with the fee beginning at $123 overall together with taxes and charges.
In fact, that used to be ahead of you factored in the price of luggage. The bottom fare most effective incorporated transportation for you and a small own merchandise. The price so as to add both a checked bag or a carry-on bag used to be $30:
Earlier than proceeding, Solar Nation showed precisely what the fare and our bag variety incorporated.
At reserving, Solar Nation charged between $30 and $39 for a Perfect Seat, getting most well-liked boarding, one complimentary alcoholic beverage, more legroom, more recline, adjustable headrest, in-seat energy and USB port. Additional-legroom Higher Seats charge between $16 and $25 every, and Usual Seats ranged from $12 to $19 every.
I handed on paying for a seat prematurely, which Solar Nation showed with a pop-up that famous that I wouldn’t be capable of test in on-line:
The full charge for the flight and a checked bag used to be $153.31. I put the price on my Citi Status to get 5x issues in line with buck, in addition to forged shuttle coverage (as we booked ahead of the card’s get advantages devaluation on Sept. 22, 2019).
Floor Revel in
Solar Nation notes on its site and in emails to passengers that price tag counters open two hours previous to departure. That’s the shortest I’ve heard of an airline opening the check-in counter. And that used to be compounded, as we had been flying on an early-morning flight after an all-day gadget outage that saved any passengers from having the ability to test in on-line.
Positive sufficient, once we arrived on the terminal a bit of greater than an hour and a part ahead of departure, we had been met with an extended line that stretched past the 8 columns of ropes.
To make issues a bit of higher, airline representatives had been on the front to the road handing out espresso and donuts.
The airline appeared made up our minds not to make this a subject, absolutely staffing all check-in counters and including body of workers to direct site visitors. Although lengthy, the road moved temporarily, and we had been in entrance of an agent in 15 mins.
The bag drop used to be fast, and we had been issued new boarding passes with a Team 5 (of 6) boarding stamp. I requested about precedence boarding and used to be informed it’d be an extra $45 to transport to a Perfect Seat, which got here with Team 1 boarding.
Solar Nation is probably the most 67 airways that take part in TSA PreCheck. Despite the fact that the usual safety line appeared lengthy, we had been ready to transparent safety in seven mins.
Despite the fact that there’s a Precedence Move front room and an Break out Front room at MSP, nor is out there from the low cost Terminal 2. Wandering up and down the contemporary, new 14-gate terminal, we didn’t see any lounges. However there have been numerous eating places, stores and merchandising machines.
The crisp seating house on the gate used to be masses big enough for all the passengers at the flight who had arrived on the gate through the scheduled boarding time.
A press release used to be made about 9 mins after scheduled boarding, which used to be scheduled for six:15am, pronouncing that the preboarding procedure would start in 5 mins. Preboarding ended up beginning at 6:35am with limited-mobility passengers, then army after which credit score cardholders. Common boarding started at 6:36am. Team 2 perceived to include passengers who’d paid for a carry-on bag.
Talking of baggage, I used to be somewhat involved that my carry-on backpack used to be technically higher than the personal-item measurements. Fortunately, the bag sizer used to be most effective being applied as a coat hanger.
Katie and I boarded at first of Team Five at 6:39am. Regardless of the prolong in boarding, we driven again proper on the 7am departure time.
A notice concerning the running efficiency: Since launching Flight 233 from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Newark (EWR) on April 11, the airline has been on time 60 of 64 occasions, and two of the ones delays had been only some mins from being thought to be on time. On the other hand, the airline’s moderate prolong used to be ruined through a unmarried prolong of greater than 8 hours.
Cabin and Seat
Solar Nation operates 26 Boeing 737-800s and 4 Boeing 737-700s, and your revel in goes to rely on what particular airplane your flight is assigned to, from pitch to the selection of bathrooms on board. The shorter 737-700s are going to be most often higher, with 31-to-32-inch pitch all over the cabin, however two of those airplane have most effective two toilets as an alternative of 3.
For this flight, we flew on one in all Solar Nation’s densified Boeing 737-800 airplane. Despite the fact that the service is all-economy, there have been 3 various kinds of seats:
- Perfect: 34 inches of pitch, A/C and USB energy shops, more recline, unfastened top rate beverage, most well-liked boarding (apparently Team 1)
- Higher: 32 inches of pitch, USB energy shops
- Usual: 29 to 30 inches of pitch, USB energy shops
On board, I measured 34 to 35 inches of pitch for the Perfect Seat and 32 inches of pitch for every Higher row I checked. The pitch for the Usual Seat measured 30 inches for many rows I checked, however there have been a couple of that measured 29 inches or 29.Five inches. Go out rows had essentially the most pitch, with 39 inches.
We must have most effective been assigned a Usual Seat, however we had been assigned seats within the Higher segment at check-in — which my knees no doubt liked.
There used to be now not a lot seat padding. For higher or worse, there used to be a loss of hardshell to the seat. That supposed that every time the passenger at the back of you pulled one thing out of the seatback pocket, it felt like they had been burrowing into your again.
Seats measured 17 inches between the armrests for window seats and roughly 17.Five inches between armrests within the center seat. The center armrests rose absolutely, which used to be great if you happen to had an empty seat subsequent to you and also you sought after to stretch out somewhat.
Talking of window seats, there are two seats to be careful if you happen to’re hoping to select a window seat. 10A has a lacking window proper subsequent to the seat.
Seat 11F could also be lacking a window, nevertheless it’s now not slightly as dangerous.
Our flight wasn’t slightly complete. I snuck a peek on the Solar Nation boarding gadget and located that that 146 passengers had been checked in for the 183-seat airplane. On board, the flight attendant showed that there have been 37 empty seats. We was hoping to have an empty seat in our row, however the check-in brokers absolutely crammed within the Higher segment, leaving all the empty seats within the again.
The Usual and Higher seats reclined most effective round 2.Five inches, however there used to be no headrest to assist cradle your neck to sleep. Best the Perfect seats had adjustable headrests.
The tray tables had been full-size — even in Usual seats — measuring 16 inches broad through Nine inches deep. This units Solar Nation with the exception of extremely low cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier, which most effective have partial tray tables. Above the tray desk, there used to be a literature pocket measuring 12 inches broad through 10 inches deep.
Overhead boxes had been an ordinary length, which means curler luggage had to have compatibility horizontally as an alternative of vertically. Packing containers most commonly crammed up for our flight regardless of the empty seats and Solar Nation’s requirement to pay for a carry-on bag.
There have been 3 bathrooms at the airplane we flew. Regardless of the plane’s just about 18 years, the toilet appeared well-maintained.
Facilities and IFE
Solar Nation’s extremely low cost service fashion used to be obvious in its facilities — or lack thereof. There used to be no Wi-Fi, inflight-entertainment display, A/C energy shops (but even so in Perfect), pillows, blankets, headphones, are living TV, tail cam, and so on.
It’s more straightforward to checklist what Solar Nation did have: USB energy shops. For every row of 3 seats, there have been 4 USB energy shops. There weren’t many amps in those shops, both. My telephone famous that it used to be “charging slowly” when plugged in.
When a passenger in entrance of me requested if there have been Wi-Fi, we had been each constructive when the flight attendant famous that there used to be “AirFi.” Seems that Solar Nation stumbled into providing a few leisure choices when it put in a payment-collection and transmission gadget.
In trade to your age, ZIP code, title and electronic mail cope with, you were given get admission to to 15 magazines, 22 video games and 31 particular person songs.
In the event you’re questioning about that movies hyperlink on the best, clicking that loaded a clean web page.
Meals and Beverage
Foods for Acquire
About 30 mins after takeoff, flight attendants introduced — waking up passengers who had been looking to sleep — after which started foods and drinks carrier. Regardless of transitioning right into a low-cost-carrier marketing strategy, Solar Nation nonetheless provides 12 drink alternatives totally free.
And also you don’t have only one shot at a unfastened drink. Flight attendants swung again throughout the cabin after the preliminary drink carrier to provide espresso and water.
Like on legacy carriers, you had to pay for beer ($7 to $8), wine ($8) and spirits ($8). Staying true to its Minnesota roots, the airline introduced — and indicated at the menu — two Minnesota-brewed beers and two Minnesota-distilled spirits. As a substitute of an ordinary beer can, the Minnesota beers had been a complete 16-ounce pint. At $8, that wasn’t a foul deal in any respect, so Katie and I cut up a blonde ale.
Along with a l. a. carte snacks ($four every), there have been 3 sorts of snack programs: children ($5), common “Flitebites” ($7) and “hearty” ($9). Despite the fact that tempted through the Youngsters Flitebites, because it incorporated a Solar Nation wings pin, we ordered one in all every of the bigger bins.
“Hearty” no doubt described them. The bins had been filled with sufficient snacks that we each made breakfast out of them and had leftovers to snack on later. The $7 Flitebites field got here with pretzel crisps, cheese unfold, a Nature Valley granola bar, Welch’s fruit snacks and chocolate-covered almonds.
The $Nine Flitebites Hearty field incorporated red meat jerky, Wheat Thins, cheese unfold, almonds, a Clif Bar, Welch’s fruit snacks and Milano cookies.
Between unfastened sodas and occasional and affordable costs for snack bins, Solar Nation no doubt exceeded expectancies for what a low cost service would offer. On the other hand, the loss of complimentary snacks and the loss of scorching meals for acquire weighed down the rating.
The flight attendants appear to be holdovers from Solar Nation’s time as a legacy service, providing now not overly pleasant however skilled ranges of carrier.
It used to be defined to me that Solar Nation’s onboard carrier used to be as excellent as its legacy-airline flight attendants who’re requested to paintings the low cost fashion. Positive sufficient, the flight attendants on our flight have compatibility this mould. Carrier used to be as it’s possible you’ll be expecting on a home American, Delta or United flight — now not Southwest ranges of pleasant, however a professional, curious and well-trained.
About 50 mins after departure — simply as many passengers had been settling in to sleep for the early-morning flight — a load announcement used to be made heralding the beginning of the food-and-beverage gross sales. Making that announcement undoubtedly helped gross sales, nevertheless it wasn’t a in particular passenger-friendly announcement.
After the justifiably dangerous press that Solar Nation gained after stranding passengers in Mexico in April 2018, I used to be particularly curious to check out out the previous legacy, somewhat-newly low cost airline. And I believe that Solar Nation has settled into its area of interest.
The dense airplane and loss of facilities permit the airline to provide bargain-basement fares. But the airline appears to be serious about now not making it a depressing revel in. When its programs had been down for an afternoon, it staffed check-in traces with more brokers and passed out donuts and occasional — each further prices for the sake of creating it a greater revel in for passengers. Whilst there are not any complimentary snacks, the airline provides unfastened sodas, juices, espresso and water on board.
If you wish to steer clear of the ultratight pitch or upload on a snack or alcoholic drink, Solar Nation doesn’t price punitive charges for doing so. Whilst lower than par with Spirit’s Giant Entrance Seat, the extra-legroom seats are aggressive with the pitch in extra-legroom economic system on legacy airways.
Would I fly Solar Nation once more? You betcha. For the proper value, agenda and so long as I may well be disconnected right through the flight, I’d take the low cost service. That mentioned, due to my elite standing on American and on United’s Big name Alliance, I’d pay somewhat extra to fly on a mainline service if it introduced a equivalent agenda.
All pictures through the creator.