Passenger sues Spirit in small-claims court — and wins

If you’ve ever felt as if the airline industry can get away with pretty much anything it wants to, then you have to check out Ellen Creager’s fascinating account of a passenger who sued Spirit Airlines in small-claims court, and won.

The airline had canceled Jane Waun’s flight at Detroit Metro Airport earlier this year and failed to rebook her and her family. So she sued the carrier in East Lansing’s 54B District Court as a last resort this spring after trying unsuccessfully to resolve her beef with the airline directly.

Now Spirit must pay her $1,350.75 to cover hotel and meal costs, a lost night at her destination and the four tickets she had to purchase on a different airline.

A few things struck me about the article. First, Spirit never showed up for its initial court hearing, claiming that it didn’t know about it. It asked to reschedule, but the judge turned the airline down. Kind of makes you wonder how seriously airlines like Spirit take small-claims actions by their passengers.

The airline also insisted that under its contract of carriage, it has no obligation to fly any of its routes and can’t be held responsible for canceling flights.

That may be true, but its contract also says that when there is a “schedule irregularity”Spirit will “rebook the passenger on Spirit’s first available flight to the passenger’s destination without additional charge.”

The problem was that Spirit’s ticket agents at the airport wouldn’t rebook the Waun’s promptly, referring them instead to their 800-number. By the time the family got through to the airline, they had already made alternate plans and booked a hotel.

I think this is encouraging news for air travelers. I urge anyone with a gripe against an airline — even if it isn’t the strongest case — to go to small-claims court. You may not win, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of making the airline dispatch an expensive attorney to answer for its misdeeds in a court of law.

And if it doesn’t, you win.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Dozo

    @Bill George, I Totally Agree with you in all you say about Spirit! I just got fired with No reason, but they created a negative file on me so they could have a way to get rid of me. My Sr. Manager Herb Sklar, has a very malicious way of operating, and they will hire people with promises & a bunch of lies about how good is to work with them. Then they treat you like a Slave. All you need to do is look out the plane windows and you could see how misserable we were working on the ramp area. No water, no proper rain gear, etc. Yes, they have their preferred employees that are the ones that they use to get feedback or info. about anyone that was retaliating. About Passangers, I felt bad the way they treated several passangers while I was working for them. I couldn’t do anything about it since my job was on the line. Bottom line I still was fired cause I tried 2 do my job in the best of my knowledge. I has been the WORST company I’ve worked for in the last 20 years… What happened to The American Companies? I miss the American Employers that would care for their employees!

  • Suhasi98

    Good for the person who took Spirit to small claims court. A couple of years ago I booked a flight on Spirit a couple of hours before departure because I had to get to NY from LA right away. When I got to the airport I was told the flight had been cancelled (apparently before I booked it) and that I would have to take the next flight which would literally take 2 days to arrive in NY. I asked for a refund and was told only customer service could authorize it. Customer service was someone in Asia who said only the LA desk could give me a refund. I returned to the desk and in a very clear voice told the agent that he should be ashamed of himself, and asked how he could work for an airline that treated customers this way. I was very direct and calm. Meanwhile, my husband had dropped me off and returned home, a 60-mile trip. He came back and picked me up as there was no public transportation at this late hour. On the way home I received a call from Spirit saying they would refund my ticket. A victory of sorts, but I wasn’t able to get another flight (on another airline) until the next morning. That’s a lot of trips to the airport, and a lot of headaches due to the delay.

  • GregStroh

    Spirit Headquarters in Florida is 954-447-7828. I have a court date coming up soon with Spirit Airlines, when i boarded a flight from Las Vegas to Detroit, i touched and sat in vomit from the previous flight. Spirit acknowledges they knew it was there and that they cleaned it. I have the pictures that clearly shows it wasn’t. I sued Ben Baldanza CEO of Spirit Airlines, which means Ben needs to show up to the courthouse, a corporate attorney will not be allowed! I tried for 8 months emailing back and forth for them to give me and the 3 others that experienced the vomit, to issue us a free roundtrip ticket voucher but they refused and thought a $100 voucher was enough compensation.

  • vllunt

    four of us were stuck in HOuston due to Spirit Air cancelling our flight and not telling any of us as well as other passengers. They also failed to tell Travelocity -who i booked the tickets through. I am taking this to small claims if they do not give me a favorable response to my registeres, return receipt letter I sent to the CEO.