Spirit Airlines strike update: Bad news … and more bad news

By | June 14th, 2010

When it comes to Spirit Airlines’ strike, there’s bad news — and more bad news. First, the bad news: All of the airline’s flight are canceled through Wednesday as the company tries to hammer out an agreement with its pilots union.

And the other bad news? Despite suggestions that it might refund your money if your flight’s canceled, the airline apparently wants to keep all of it. Even if you don’t fly.

In a new release this morning, the company promised grounded passengers either a refund or “future flight credits for customers for the full amount of their unflown flight purchase” plus $100 in future flight credits.

So far, I’m hearing that it’s just offering credit.

Spirit is absolutely allowed to do that. The only mention of a strike in Spirit’s contract of carriage — its legal agreement between you and the airline — is in section 4.8 under “Refusal to Transport”

Spirit may refuse to transport, or remove from any flight, any customer for the following reasons:

4.8.2. Whenever necessary or advisable by reason of weather or other conditions beyond its control (including, without limitation, acts of God, labor disturbances, strikes, civil commotions, embargoes, wars, hostilities, or disturbances) actual, threatened, or reported.

In other words, as I mentioned in a previous post, Spirit has no obligation to do anything for you. Period.

(Section 9.2, which addresses involuntary refunds, suggests the airline may owe passengers a refund for canceling the flight, but Spirit seems to be arguing that the rule doesn’t apply during a strike.)

While Spirit’s decision is completely legal, it is morally wrong. If I order a meal at a restaurant, and the kitchen staff goes on strike, I don’t have to pay for the food I never was served. Why should this be any different?

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Given all that, reader Sam Wyrick wants to know what his options are. His weekend flight from New York to Myrtle Beach, S.C., was canceled at the last minute, and he had to buy a new ticket on US Airways. Total cost: $1,220.

Two different Spirit reps–one on the ground at LaGuardia, and one at a call center had stated that if Spirit canceled our flight we would be called and rebooked, on another airline if necessary. But the airline site only offered a credit.

I am going to try to recoup our actual damages. I have read their contract of carriage (which of course no one ever sees in advance) on your site, which disclaims any responsibility to reimburse the passenger for the cost of rebooking on other airlines. Any advice?

Unfortunately, his options are limited. Airlines aren’t required by law to accept passengers from carriers that have been grounded because of a strike (there use to be one, but it expired). The credits are of limited value, and will almost certainly expire in due time.

How about a credit card dispute, as some have suggested?

Not a bad idea, but if it’s been more than 60 days since the purchase, the odds of prevailing are not good. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you have to make a claim within two months. Many airline tickets are booked with longer lead times, which means you’re pretty much out of luck.