DOT Fines Spirit for All Sorts of Violations

Spirit is one of those airlines that people seem to love to hate, and now the government is getting in on the act as well. The DOT has assessed a massive $375,000 fine on Spirit for all kinds of shenanigans (they’ll only have to pay $215,000 if they don’t Spirit Gets Finedviolate it again). This is a pretty hefty fine for something that’s not safety-related.

So what exactly did they do? Well, this was all a result of the analysis of complaints that came in to the DOT from customers. I dove in to the DOT filing to get the full details.

Denied Boarding Compensation
Basically, Spirit bumped passengers and didn’t follow the rules. They also were uncooperative when inspectors asked for information. The DOT didn’t get too specific here other than saying that “Spirit bumped passengers, but did not follow one or more of the provisions of 14 CFR 250.” That’s the denied boarding piece of legislation that allow airlines to oversell flights.

In exchange for being able to oversell flights, airlines have to agree to the following:

  • Any passenger who holds confirmed reserved space on a flight and is involuntarily bumped must be compensated
  • Before that passenger can be bumped, the airline has to ask for volunteers
  • If there aren’t enough volunteers, the customer must be given cash or a check for the amount stipulated by the law right there at the airport
  • Airlines are allowed to offer vouchers instead, but they first have to tell the passenger how much they could have in cold hard cash
  • Airlines have to provide written notice to any passenger that is bumped involuntarily

So Spirit broke one or more of those rules but I don’t know the details. It could have been something as small as not handing out the written notice and instead doing it verbally. Or it could have been something really major like not offering compensation.

Delayed Reporting
As we all know, airlines have to file a variety of reports with the DOT regarding financial fitness (balance sheets, traffic information, etc). On more than one occasion, Spirit was late in filing some reports. They were warned not to do it again, but those warnings were apparently ignored. Oops.

Fail to Keep Required Complaint Records
Spirit decided that keeping complaint letters was too difficult, despite the fact that it’s required by law. Instead, they entered a “brief synopsis” of the complaint into their tracking system and then shredded the letter. The DOT was not too thrilled about this since they wanted those letters as part of their investigation.

Failing to Provide Disabled Passenger Information
Twice, DOT inspectors tried to get Spirit to provide them with the federal rules on disabled passengers at the ticket counter in Ft Lauderdale and twice it didn’t happen. In case you didn’t see this coming, it’s required that a written copy be kept at each airport by each airline.

Delayed Bag Payments
Spirit spent plenty of time delaying payments for lost bags. According to the DOT, it took one person 14 months to get anything out of them. While there isn’t any maximum time to respond in the law, the DOT says delays like this are unfair and deceptive. That’s not legal.

Not Paying Lost Bag Travel Expenses
14 CFR 254.4 clearly (well, as clearly as government can be) states that airlines need to compensate passengers up to $3,300 for “provable direct or consequential damages resulting from the disappearance of, damage to, or delay in delivery of a passenger’s personal property.” They apparently only followed this rule on the outbound of a roundtrip ticket and only for expenses incurred more than 24 hours after the bag was lost.

Translation: They withheld money that they owed people for losing or damaging their bags.

Lying About FAA and DOT Regulations
From the wording in the complaint, this one clearly pissed off the DOT. Spirit employees seem to have invoked the old “we don’t wanna do this but the FAA or DOT makes us” strategy in some cases when dealing with passengers, even if the complaint had nothing to do with federal regulations.

Violating the Full Fare Ad Rule
Airlines are required to advertise their full fare, well, sort of. They have to advertise the full fare but that can exclude government imposed taxes or fees like PFCs and the September 11th Security Fee. But Spirit failed to include its online booking fee on its ads on its website, and that’s a no-no.

Failing to Take Responsibility for Bags on International Flights
International flights are governed by the Montreal Convention when it comes to lost bags, and that Convention specifically states that the airline is liable for anything checked in the luggage while its in the airline’s control. Spirit went against that and failed to take responsibility in some cases.

So there you have it. According to Spirit, this is all ancient history and none of this has happened for over a year. So if that’s the case, then they may not have anything to worry about going forward. But, it still helps to reinforce the image in travelers’ minds that Spirit is not exactly playing fair. Spirit has never really cared much about its image. Those low fares tend to speak for themselves anyway.

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19 Comments on "DOT Fines Spirit for All Sorts of Violations"

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David SF eastbay
When you have low fares that means you have to have low costs. Which means low salaries which means you tend to not be able to get the best qualified workers. Which means those people could care less about what they are doing, and these are your front line workers who deal with the public. Plus so many companies have done aways with proper training of its workers which doesn’t help those front line agents when dealing with the public when problems come up. To many companys have turned jobs into robotic functions that don’t permit humans to think or… Read more »

I have been told by a friend and former Spirit employee that they have always been a low fare airline, but they used to strive to provide good customer service. (Kind of like JetBlue maybe?) Anyhow, he does still live in FLL and he says that since the current owners of Spirit came on the scene things have really gotten bad…to the point he won’t fly on them anymore…and employees he knows that are still there say morale has gone in the crapper.

What’s even more interesting, in the same vein, is that NK can’t seem to retain any customer base, as they go gangbusters into a market and then quickly fade away. LIM was up to 2x daily and now is weekly; numerous other destinations started multiple times daily and now are less than daily or canceled. B6 seems to easily cherry pick NK customers with a similar fare and less abuse. I used to think you could Ryanair (yeah, I made it a verb) customers to no end as long as the fare was low enough, but NK seems to have… Read more »
Trent880 wrote: I used to think you could Ryanair (yeah, I made it a verb) customers to no end as long as the fare was low enough… I’m always amazed the abuse people are willing to subject themselves to in order to save a few dollars. And for the most part, it literally is just a few dollars. It’s not like every route Spirit flies they’re offering $10 tickets and everyone else is $1000. Flying is unnatural and discombobulating enough of an experience without adding consistent incompetence and indifference on top of it. (Although I do realize all airlines screw… Read more »

Is Triple-B still hitting “reply all” on his outgoing emails?


Massive fine? Are you kidding? That amount is the equivalent of their CEO’s yearly benefit package (NOT including options). Laughable. They’ll book it as misc office costs and consider it cost of doing their profitable business of screwing pax. DOT has no teeth.

Nick Barnard

I wonder if they’ll do a “we paid for the bailout but you don’t have to” sale or something like that.

They’re known for taking any publicity they can get.

Since July 1, this represents the 7th consent order DOT has issued against the more commonly-known air carriers: UA, regarding full-fare advertising, another for code-share disclosure; CO, for internet advertising; US, for code-share disclosure; HA, for code-share disclosure; DL, for denied boarding matters. When you look at these cases, honestly, doesn’t every air carrier do about the same thing? These days, what with what you see on airline web sites displaying fares and flights, the way they advertise, the way they do or not disclose this and that, DOT, if they had the time and money, could find a violation… Read more »
Very interesting, but then again, it IS Spirit, so it doesn’t surprise me that much. Anyway, while we’re on the subject of following federal regulations, I was reading over them just now and it states: ” In any flight segment using large aircraft, or on any flight segment that is included on the same ticket as another flight segment that uses large aircraft, an air carrier shall provide to passengers, by conspicuous written material included on or with its ticket, either: (a) Notice of any monetary limitation on its baggage liability to passengers; or (b) The following notice: “Federal rules… Read more »
David M

Rob wrote:

But do any airlines actually do this? I’ve never seen option A or B, and I fly about 18 roundtrips a year.

Often (a) would be printed in the ticket jacket that the agent would put your boarding passes and baggage claim tags in.

dan powers

Spirit air has a lot of potential, with a HUB in FLL, only 1 type acft, NK could be making a killing on flights to central america and south america. But they have to be competitive…Jetblue and southwest are LCC but don’t cut corners. NK needs some new blood…new management. The reason they went from 2x a day to 1x a week on FLL-LIM is because the word got around that by the time you pay for bags, cokes, water , and surly service…it cost the same as AA, DL CO or LA


i have credit from them ( ugh) that i refuse ti use.Its $1500.00 Ive been delaying it for over 2 years and keep rebooking and canceling to stay current. I refuse to fly them
Maybe I’ll donate it to charity :)
P.S. They will probably see this and figure out how to make my credit expire

Trent880 wrote: I used to think you could Ryanair (yeah, I made it a verb) customers to no end as long as the fare was low enough, but NK seems to have antagonized their customer base away. I think that the Ryanair demographic (ie drunken yobbos wanting a one hour flight to somewhere where they can get falling down drunker than they started) is not selected from the sharpest knives in the drawer. They probably think that the Ryanair staff are uber competent and friendly. I don’t think that the US has enough flyable destinations with exceptionally cheap booze to… Read more »
Carol Castellanos
As we are under new management we are now in the process of reaching out to our customers that may have not had the most satisfying experience while traveling with us. I have come across your comments and would like the opportunity to ensure that we have come full circle since originally fined. We encourage everyone to give us a first chance, another chance or simply the last chance to wow you. If you do happen to come across something that bothers you, do not hesitate to bring it to our attention before negatively blogging about us. You may also… Read more »
Nick Barnard

@ Carol Castellanos:

Talk about too little too late. Next time try to get your reply in within the first week of a post.


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would like to see published figures on airline lawsuits…

Colt Cooper

Interesting, I wonder if this includes APIS fines (not sending in international passenger information around the time the flight is closed).