Thursday, September 17, 2009

D.O.T. Nails Spirit Airlines for Violating Passenger-Bumping Rules

[Updated, with comment from Spirit]

The U.S. Department of Transportation said today that it fined Spirit Airlines $375,000 for violations of rules on bumping passengers as part of a crackdown on “unfair and deceptive practices.”

On his blog, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “This civil penalty is a record for these kinds of violations. The message should be clear. We will continue to take enforcement action when airlines violate our rules.”

Spirit, said LaHood “bumped passengers from oversold flights but did not provide compensation or a written notice of passengers’ rights to compensation–as required by DOT rules protecting consumers.”

He added:

“Spirit also failed to resolve baggage claims within a reasonable time. In one case, they took 14 months to provide traveler compensation. The airline provided compensation only for baggage on the outbound leg of round-trip flights. And, the airline refused to accept responsibility for missing laptops and other items Spirit had accepted as baggage.

“Spirit also violated DOT rules requiring airfare ads to state the full price to be paid. The fares advertised omitted fees Spirit tacked onto base fares.

“Spirit violated several other DOT consumer-protection rules, all-in-all leading to Enforcement Office review of complaints filed by consumers, inspections at airports, and a review of Spirit’s records. The Office will follow-up its investigation in the coming year.

“This kind of treatment of America’s airline customers is not just a violation of rules; it’s unacceptable. This DOT says passengers deserve better, and they will receive better.”

Hmmm, strong words.

On its Web site, Spirit says the following:

“Obviously we are proud to have broken the rules and created arguably the best airline in the Americas. But don’t take our word for it; book Spirit for your next trip so you can see first hand what everyone is raving about. …”

Nah, I’m kidding. that isn’t Spirit’s comment on being fined for actually breaking the rules. It’s just the boilerplate it runs on its Web site every day.

Spirit’s comment on the DOT fine:

"Our new ultra low cost carrier model is the most consumer friendly airline model in the world. … We have addressed all the core issues that caused customer experience challenges a few years ago including upgrading our computer systems and utilizing a new reservations partner. Additionally, once the TSA relocated their machines in FLL, the airport experience improved significantly. …"


1 comment:

paleolith said...

[sorry if this is a duplicate, blogger is totally unclear as to whether the post has been submitted.]

Oooh, that'll alter behavior. All the airlines will notice that Spirit got smacked with a dandelion puffball.

$375,000? What a joke. Oh, and the fine isn't really $375K -- it's $215K. Read the consent decree at They only pay the other $160K if they get caught again in the next year. And this is a record?

They failed to inform involuntary bumps that they had the right to cash instead of tickets. Now, wouldn't it seem reasonable to require them to make a reasonable attempt to locate the possibly affected passengers (in other words, anyone who was involuntarily bumped and got a ticket as compensation) and send them a check for the amount they could have received, or at least part of it? But no, there's no mention whatever of trying to compensate the passengers Spirit lied to. The cost of compensate might have been many times the amount of the fine.

Other parts of the document talk about DOT inspectors getting stonewalled when they try to get oversale reports, or to get copies of disabled passengers' rights at a ticket counter. They talk about seriously late reports. Spirit probably saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by skimping on training.

The DOT PR at is hardly any more informative than Spirit's. But it does tell you to go to and look for docket DOT-OST-2009-0001. Eventually you find a link to

and the fun begins. That's where you find out about the real amount of the fine, the stonewalling, etc.