Spirit Airlines smacked with record $375,000 fine for consumer rules violations

By | September 17th, 2009

spiritThe Transportation Department has hit Spirit Airways with a record $375,000 fine for failing to comply with rules governing denied boarding compensation, fare advertising, baggage liability and other consumer protection requirements, the agency announced this morning.

In a prepared statement, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood suggested his agency was taking a hard line when it comes to these types of violations. “We will continue to take enforcement action when airlines violate our rules,” he said, adding that consumer protections were an “important part” of the department’s mission.

This is a positive development for consumers, many of whom feel the DOT had failed to protect passengers in the past. (I’ve also been critical of the agency, but on reflection — and in light of today’s fine — I believe it may be more a question of adequate resources than a desire to help consumers.)

What did Spirit do to deserve such a big fine?

• The Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that Spirit bumped passengers from oversold flights but did not provide compensation or a written notice of their rights to compensation, as required by DOT rules.

• The investigation also revealed that Spirit failed to resolve baggage claims within a reasonable period, on one occasion taking 14 months to provide compensation.

• Spirit also was found to violate DOT rules by providing compensation for delayed baggage only for the outbound leg of round-trip flights and only for purchases made more than 24 hours after arrival.

• In addition, Spirit violated baggage liability laws governing international travel by refusing to accept responsibility for missing laptop computers and certain other items it accepted as baggage.

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• Spirit also violated DOT rules requiring airfare ads to state the full price to be paid by omitting carrier-imposed fees from the base fare.

• It also failed to make available on request a copy of the Department’s rule prohibiting discrimination against disabled passengers.

• The Aviation Enforcement Office also cited Spirit for referring to DOT and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations when responding to consumer complaints even though the complaints did not concern DOT or FAA rules.

• Spirit also violated DOT rules by failing to retain copies of consumer complaints and by failing to file required reports in a timely manner.

In other words, Spirit has been very, very bad.

The DOT promises it will conduct a follow-up investigation of Spirit during the coming year.

(Photo: vnvlain/Flickr Creative Commons)

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