Hell hath no fury like a Minnesotan scorned by Solar Nation’s transition to a price range airline. Belief me: As a Minnesotan myself, I hear it on a regular basis.
After struggling financially for years, the Minnesota-based airline ripped out first-class in favor of slimmer seats, scaled again in-flight service, and started charging charges for the whole lot from baggage to seat assignments to snacks. That was five-plus years in the past, and the transformation is now full: It is now a rising low-cost provider, within the vein of Spirit or Frontier.
Or is it? Time and again all through my current Solar Nation flight from Denver (DEN) to Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), there have been indicators and reminders that Solar Nation is extra than simply your run-of-the-mill, bare-bones price range airline.
Learn on for the total evaluation.
Reserving Solar Nation Airways Flights
Let’s handle this from the very outset: Precisely how low-cost – or costly – your Solar Nation flight will likely be all hinges on what extras you want.
From carry-ons to checked baggage to seat choice, the airline’s a la carte pricing mannequin means you get what you pay for on Solar Nation: The bottom fare will get you a small private merchandise to stow underneath the seat in entrance of you … and nothing else. Fortuitously, Solar Nation’s extra charges are usually milder than you may discover with different price range carriers like Spirit and Frontier, in our expertise.
In my case, it began with a $76.90 one-way fare from Denver (DEN) to Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP). Proper off the bat, Solar Nation tries to upsell you on bundles with seat assignments, baggage, and different perks that may immediately double the worth of your ticket – or extra.
When you skip that choice, it is time to add your extras individually, beginning with baggage – and that is probably the most effective route until you want loads of extras.
Like many price range carriers, you may get the bottom value by including a bag to your reservation if you buy your flight. Going again and including a bag later will value you an additional $10 or extra, particularly in case you wait to take action on the airport on the day of your flight.
Checked baggage and carry-on baggage sometimes value the identical quantity with Solar Nation.
Learn extra about Solar Nation baggage charges!
Then it is time to decide seats – and but once more, the charges had been way more affordable with Solar Nation than many different price range carriers. For instance, Frontier Airways was charging $25 to $55 for a seat task on my flight from Minneapolis to Denver earlier that day.
With Solar Nation, selecting a seat was as low-cost as simply $9 … for a center seat in the back of the airplane. Nonetheless, paying an additional $13 for an aisle seat in row 18 struck me as a good deal. When you determine to not pay, you may get randomly assigned a seat at check-in.
The upsell effort continues even after selecting seats, like the choice to tack on a rental automobile together with your flight. Solar Nation additionally supplied me the choice so as to add a one-time change payment waiver for $19. Except you are reserving a flight pretty last-minute and count on you may want to alter it, it is most likely price skipping this feature: Solar Nation permits free modifications to flights as long as it is 60-plus days upfront. And both manner, you may nonetheless be on the hook for a fare distinction.
Then it is time to pay. However beware: Solar Nation doesn’t settle for American Categorical. The airline hasn’t accepted Amex since manner again in 2017.
In the long run, I wound up paying $89.90 for my one-way flight with a seat task again dwelling to Minneapolis.
At Thrifty Traveler, we do not settle for freebies. We use our personal factors, miles, or money to pay for each single flight or resort you see reviewed right here – together with this one!
Checking in & Boarding
Within the 12 months 2023, Solar Nation doesn’t have a smartphone app.
Sure, actually. From the foremost legacy carriers to the latest price range airways like Breeze Airways and Avelo, having a smartphone app out there for vacationers to e book journey, handle reservations, and test in for flights looks as if the naked minimal. However not Solar Nation: The airline sundown its app years in the past.
The Star Tribune reported earlier this 12 months a brand new Solar Nation app is coming, with the airline saying it’s going to go reside someday later this 12 months or in early 2024. For now, Solar Nation clients are nonetheless capable of test in on-line, then open a boarding cross on their telephones, together with utilizing Apple Pockets.
Fortunately, Solar Nation participates in TSA PreCheck so you may don’t have any downside stepping into these shorter, devoted lanes as long as you enter your Recognized Traveler Quantity with the airline.
Regardless of some bold objectives for the longer term, Solar Nation flies a rising fleet of all Boeing 737s. Ours was ready on the gate to start boarding proper as scheduled, nonetheless sporting the airline’s older paint job – Solar Nation plans to proceed outfitting its planes with its new livery as they arrive in for scheduled repainting.
Solar Nation Airways Cabin & Seats
There is not any mistaking it when strolling onboard a Solar Nation airplane: It is a price range airline. Top quality seats are lengthy gone, changed with slimmer seats with much less legroom.
However there’s additionally no query in my thoughts that the in-flight expertise on Solar Nation is a step above that on Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant. This is why:
- Along with normal economic system seats, the airline gives “Higher” seating with just a few additional inches of legroom and some rows of “Finest” seats with an adjustable headrest, extra recline, and essentially the most legroom on the entrance of the airplane
- Most price range airways have disabled reclining on their seats, however not Solar Nation
- It doesn’t matter what row you are in, Solar Nation’s seats have far superior padding than the ultra-slimline seats that Frontier and Spirit use on their planes
Minnesotans have bemoaned Solar Nation’s transition from the once-beloved hometown provider to a price range airline with greater charges for … nearly the whole lot. However from the second you step on the airplane, it is clear Solar Nation has charted a center floor: It is probably not a full-service airline anymore, however it’s not a full-fledged price range provider, both.
Through the years, Solar Nation has retrofitted its whole fleet of 737s with this new, low-cost look. Every airplane has 186 seats onboard, all specified by a 3-3 configuration very like any airline flying domestically today.
They’re definitely not first-class seats, however the cabin begins with just a few rows of Solar Nation’s “Finest” seating, which sport 34 inches of pitch (the aviation business parlance for “legroom”) – just a few inches greater than the 29 inches you may discover in normal seats. These seats additionally every have a padded and adjustable headrest and devoted common energy sockets in addition to USB-A ports.
On my flight, these seats on the entrance of the airplane had been out there for an additional $42 – $29 greater than I paid for the standard seat.
But when extra legroom is what you are after, you are able to do even higher. Exit row seats in rows 14 and 15 include a whopping 38 inches of pitch. Whereas they do not have a headrest and the opposite bells and whistles you get within the “Finest” part, these exit row seats are additionally cheaper: They had been $26 or $27 on my flight.
The seats all through the remainder of the cabin are roughly similar: a pleasant, flat navy with some easy stitching.
Whereas these newer Solar Nation seats are definitely on the slimmer aspect, they’re way more forgiving than the stiff seats you may discover flying on the likes of Frontier and Spirit. Sitting down, the padding was noticeable – and appreciated. This is a glance from the aspect.
Certain, it lacks a headrest – not less than in case you’re not sitting up within the “Finest” seats on the entrance of the airplane. However these are a far cry from the plywood-and-leather seats on ultra-low-cost carriers. Consolation-wise, they’re far nearer to Delta Air Strains than they’re to a provider like Spirit, in case you ask me. Heck, I’ve had worse seats flying with American Airways.
In Solar Nation’s normal seats, the legroom was tight however manageable. On paper, these seats have 29 inches of pitch. In apply, the slimline seats Solar Nation makes use of means these 29 inches get you one thing nearer to the 31 inches of pitch you may discover on many Delta or United flights, since these seats merely take up extra space.
At 5 toes 10 inches, I felt like I had loads of legroom. And there was greater than sufficient room to slip a backpack beneath the seat in entrance of me with out sacrificing that precious house.
Do not anticipate finding seatback screens flying Solar Nation. As a substitute, there is a helpful storage compartment for inflight menus and different literature. There are additionally loads of air vents and studying lights out there overhead.
However even the traditional seats have a function you will not discover on many price range airways: USB-A sockets to maintain your smartphones and different units charged. There are two of those energy bins in every three-seat part. That is one thing that even Southwest has solely just lately begun to supply on its planes, however it’s normal with Solar Nation.
There are additionally substantial mesh pockets to retailer your belongings at each seat.
The theme of Solar Nation outdoing its fellow price range carriers continues: Every seat additionally has a full-size tray that folds down – not the tiny cabinets that you’re going to discover on Frontier and the like. There’s greater than sufficient house right here for a full-size laptop computer if you could get some work finished.
You may even recline your seat! Customary economic system seats get a meager 2 inches of recline, however each inch helps.
When you’re attempting to work or textual content associates, there is not any full-fledged Wi-Fi onboard Solar Nation Airways. As a substitute, Solar Nation gives what it calls “AirFi,” permitting vacationers to attach with their private units to stream motion pictures and TV reveals or play video games, all without spending a dime. But once more, that units Solar Nation aside from most of its low-cost rivals: Solely Spirit gives bonafide Wi-Fi onboard.
It took me some time to get linked however as soon as I did, I used to be pleasantly shocked on the choice, which even included just a few current blockbusters. Whereas there are no seatback screens, not less than there’s some inflight leisure, supplied you deliver your personal system.
There are three toilets onboard every Solar Nation 737: One on the entrance of the airplane and two all the best way on the rear. Whereas definitely fundamental, they had been in fine condition and stored clear all through the flight.
Service, Meals & Drinks Flying Solar Nation
Time and again, Solar Nation finds methods huge and small to set itself aside from the flock of price range airways. And that may simply be clearest with in-flight service.
Flying Spirit or Frontier, chances are you’ll not even be capable to get a cup of water without spending a dime. And overlook the drink service with a free soda or juice – that’ll value you $4 or extra.
But Solar Nation nonetheless supplies complimentary drink service on its flights, with espresso, tea, juice, and delicate drinks out there to anybody. Even on a comparatively quick flight, flight attendants even got here again by way of the cabin to supply refills.
There are no complimentary snacks out there, although the airline has a lot out there for buy. And very like the foremost full-service airways, you can even pay for a stiffer drink – although vacationers who spring for a “Finest” seat on the entrance of the airplane get one free alcoholic drink with their improve.
Whereas it is probably not the identical beloved hometown airline model from a decade in the past, however Solar Nation nonetheless leans exhausting into its Minnesota roots with its inflight menu. There are Minnesota-made Fulton beers out there to buy in addition to Prairie Natural gins and vodka and a pre-mixed Outdated Customary from native distillery Crooked Water Spirits. The native aptitude extends to the snack choice with Dot’s Pretzels, Wiley Wallaby licorice, and We Are Nuts Path Combine. Solar Nation even gives what it calls a “Hometown Taste Bundle” – a $1 low cost if you buy a Minnesota-made drink and snack collectively.
Costs are affordable, too: $9 for a craft beer or liquor, and also you get a free bottle of Bloody Mary or margarita combine when buying a bottle of booze. When you want greater than a nibble, Solar Nation additionally sells extra substantial “Bites Field” and “Bistro Field” with a bundle of various snacks for $9.
How Does Solar Nation Examine with Different Low-Price Carriers?
Solar Nation has tried to chart a center floor between the full-service provider it as soon as was and bare-bones airways like Spirit and Frontier. When you ask me, they’ve succeeded.
Charges could also be excessive and the legroom on its refurbished planes is tight, however the airline went with better-padded seats than the stiff, ultra-slimline seating you’ll discover on its low-cost rivals. It additionally gives in-flight streaming to private units, one thing you will not discover on many different price range airways.
You want solely examine the seats on Solar Nation …
to Frontier …
… to see that Solar Nation is a special breed of airline. I might moderately put my butt in a Solar Nation airplane than fly Frontier 100 instances out of 100.
No airline is immune from delays, cancellations, lengthy traces, or misplaced baggage – and that features Solar Nation. Generally, issues simply go unsuitable.
However when issues do go unsuitable, that is when the ache of flying a low-cost provider is sharpest: Customer support is a giant space price range airways in the reduction of in comparison with main carriers. There could also be fewer brokers on the gate, fewer workers working the telephones, and fewer of the infrastructure to get well when issues collapse.
In my thoughts, it is worse on different price range carriers than with Solar Nation for one main motive: Scheduling. Whereas many low-cost carriers could fly simply as soon as a day (or just a few instances every week) to your vacation spot, Solar Nation usually operates a fuller schedule with extra every day departures – not less than out and in of its Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) hub.
For instance, it flies thrice a day from Minneapolis to Phoenix (PHX) within the winter, whereas Spirit flies the identical route simply as soon as.
In case your 7 a.m. departure with Solar Nation will get delayed or canceled, not less than you have acquired choices. E-book that very same flight with Spirit solely to see it will get canceled, and also you’re probably caught till not less than the next day.
However one episode nonetheless looms giant over Solar Nation’s fame: April 2018, when it stranded tons of of vacationers in Mexico as a winter storm hammered its Minneapolis hub. 5-plus years later, each subsequent laptop outage and scheduling snafu nonetheless triggers feedback tying again to that meltdown. The airline has mentioned it is realized from that saga, however it’s clear that many vacationers view it as proof that Solar Nation’s transformation was the unsuitable transfer.
Solar Nation is probably not the beloved hometown airline that it as soon as was, with first-class seats and serving cheeseburgers onboard. But it surely’s additionally not a bare-bones price range airline, both.
Solar Nation is undeniably a price range airline in identify and in enterprise mannequin. Coupled with operational snafus through the years, that transformation alone has been sufficient for a lot of would-be Solar Nation flyers to swear off the airline.
However contained in the airplane, it is one thing completely different. Legroom is definitely tight however manageable, with way more snug and decently padded seats than its rivals promote at related costs. And the in-flight service with free drinks is far nearer to Delta or American than to Spirit and Allegiant, the place you pay for completely the whole lot.
When the worth is true – and it usually is – I am going to gladly proceed flying with Solar Nation.