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 violate 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.
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.