Passenger sues Spirit in small-claims court — and wins

By | July 15th, 2007

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.

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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.

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