They kicked the soccer team off the plane. Nice work, Spirit Airlines.

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Spirit Airlines kicked Aryeh Ebrahimi and six of his teammates from the University of Central Florida soccer team off a flight.

I’m not making this up. The airline arbitrarily removed seven student athletes who were returning from a tournament. They weren’t misbehaving. Their only crime, apparently, was being there.

And get this: Ebrahimi and his teammates were already seated on the first leg of their flight from Phoenix to Dallas. They were all buckled up and ready to go.

“A flight attendant told us we had to deplane because we didn’t have seats guaranteed from Dallas to Orlando,” he explains. “The flight was overbooked.”

The soccer players protested. That’s a line you don’t get to write every day on a consumer advocacy site. Of course they protested — they hadn’t done anything and they weren’t going home.

“We showed our boarding passes and confirmed tickets,” says Ebrahimi. “We were told if we didn’t get off the plane, police would escort us off.”

Spirit is known to do this from time to time. In 2015, it had 496 involuntary denied boardings (see page 34), making it neither the best nor the worst of them.

Ebrahimi asked for the reason for the bump in writing, per the Spirit contract of carriage and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulation. Denied.

“We showed the agent the law regarding involuntary bumps and compensation,” he says. “She said we would be refunded the price of the ticket, but nothing would happen until we got back to Orlando.”

Spirit rebooked the soccer players on a United Airlines flight that left five hours later. “We spent the night at the airport and arrived in Orlando five hours later than our scheduled arrival,” he says.

DOT regulations are clear on what the soccer players are owed:

If you are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.

If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $650 maximum.

If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (400% of your one-way fare, $1300 maximum).

The way Ebrahimi saw it, Spirit needed to pay him and his teammates 400 percent the cost of each ticket. And that’s what he asked for.

“I have sent multiple emails to Spirit,” he says. “They first claimed we all accepted $50 vouchers for what happened, which was not true. Now they claim the flight from Phoenix was delayed and they were afraid we wouldn’t make the Dallas connection. Thus, they removed us from the plane and rebooked us on the United flight.”

But that doesn’t agree with the actual flight record, which shows the plane left two minutes late and arrived ten minutes early to Dallas. (Ah, dontcha love those padded schedules!) The flight to Orlando left on time at 9:03 a.m.

“We witnessed the plane leave Phoenix on time,” he notes.

In its last email, Spirit offered the students $50 vouchers for each traveler and a $240 credit towards baggage costs for the group. Spirit still insists they were bumped because of “mechanical issues” and flight delay, but he says there is no evidence to support this claim.

Our advocacy team thought Ebrahimi deserved to know the real reason why his group was bumped from their original flight. So I asked Spirit if it didn’t mind taking another look at his case.

Turns out it did mind. Spirit said Ebrahimi had already filed a complaint with DOT, and they would be following up through government channels.

Well, they showed us the red card, didn’t they? Let’s hope the referee sorts this one out.

Did Spirit handle this correctly?

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William Leeper

A supervisor for major facility services company, and owner of his own information technology company. William has been involved with Elliott.org since 2012, and actively advocates cases, serves as a moderator for comments, has served as Managing Editor for commentary, and interim research director.

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  • Chris Johnson

    Yet another reason to avoid Spirit Airlines. The money you save is just not worth it. They bump seven people involuntarily and then lie about the reasons they were bumped to avoid paying them any kind of compensation they were entitled to. I hope DOT fines the hell out of Spirit and these passengers get the compensation they are entitled to. Did Spirit even ask for volunteers to give up their seats on the flight in exchange for free tickets like most airlines do? Also, why does Spirit think they can even lie about the Dallas connection and get away with it when the website will easily print out exactly when the flights took off and landed? I just hope these passengers had the sense to print that out.

    Spirit seems to outdo itself over and over as far as scummy activity goes. I only hope they made their soccer game in time and this delay didn’t cause problems with it.

  • James

    I was wondering about this — where was the coach in all of this, and why only seven players? What did the rest of the team have to say? (Usually, there are at least 11 players on a soccer team.) And if they were representing Central Florida, wouldn’t UCF be providing the tickets, and be the ones who get the involuntary boarding fees?

  • Joe_D_Messina

    It would appear it was limited to 7 players because they weren’t oversold enough to have needed to bump the entire team. What was the coach supposed to do? He doesn’t own the airline. He could, in theory, have had the entire team deplane to show solidarity but then all of them would have been inconvenienced and that probably would have set them up for trouble since it would have been THEIR choice to not fly rather than Spirit’s.

  • William Leeper

    Having handled the case, I believe these guys were members of the UCF team, but I don’t think this was a sanctioned tournament they were attending. I think this was some outside league.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    And this is the only way to improve service across the board STARTING with Spirit. Spirit cuts costs in more than what they advertise (tiny seats and ridiculous baggage fees). They oversell and overbook the flights and hope to bump the unwary or their planes break down and they dump the passengers onto later flights. There’s something wonderful about flying a legacy airline or a regular “full fare” airline where your flight takes off on time (or close to it) and gets to the destination on time. When you don’t take off and then have to play the gate-agent game to try to get to where you’re going, it becomes like being homeless for a day. It STINKS.

    Sure, it’s tempting to save a ton of money on a fare when I could save perhaps $200 per flight (for a family of 3) and even go direct rather than via Delta from Dulles to Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale but… is the risk worth it to have a vacation ruined by getting bumped or delayed a day?

    When Spirit gets its hand caught in the cookie jar (bumps passengers that the DOT allows for 4X compensation), they should go for it. Don’t settle. Make ’em pay.

  • Steve Rabin

    The worst part: Spirit is trying to avoid the rules. I wonder if they picked on college students thinking they would be more naive about the regulations and laws. Good on Aryeh for pulling out Spirit’s contract of carriage and DOT rules. Smart guy.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the DOT not only forced Spirit to pay each player 400%, but also levied a stiff fine on top it? That might teach them.

  • James

    I took a look at the UCF site — Ebrahimi does not appear on the current roster (http://www.ucfknights.com/sports/m-soccer/mtt/ucf-m-soccer-mtt.html) nor does he appear in record book’s all-time roster (http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/ucf/sports/m-soccer/auto_pdf/2015-16/misc_non_event/2015-UCF-MSOC-Record-Book.pdf) But I did find information on a player by that name who played at Team Boca (a club in central Florida) and it could have been a three on three tournament.

  • jmj

    BTW, One more reason to hate Spirit? They don’t participate in TSA Precheck.

  • Michael__K

    The (by all indications understaffed) DOT needs to fine some Enforcement Office investigators to send out to investigate Spirit again.

    Last time what they found led to a (then) record fine.

    http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/EO/eo_2009-09-08.pdf

  • sam

    This was my thought exactly – they saw a bunch of college students and figured they would be the “easiest” to bump because they either wouldn’t know how to advocate for their rights or (particularly because they were traveling as a group) assumed someone else bought their tickets so they could confuse the students with the bullsh*t about the tickets not being paid for/confirmed and the students wouldn’t be able to figure it out until it was too late.

  • Flatlander

    The only thing good I can say about Spirit is that they at least freely admit that they are a bunch of assholes and that most of their customers only buy tickets from them because they are cheap.

  • Regina Litman

    I’m not familiar with soccer. I suspect that the “red card” reference at the end is a soccer reference. Can someone please explain it for me? Thanks in advance.

    To me, football is a sport played by the NFL, not by FCs.

  • MarkKelling

    Referees in soccer have yellow cards and red cards. A yellow card is a warning against a specific player for a rules violation. A red card is an immediate removal from the game of the indicated player for a more serious, or repeated, violation.

  • MarkKelling

    I am extremely surprised by this — Spirit booked them all on another flight on another airline?!?

    Seems to me that Spirit realized they messed up and tried to make things right by putting them on the UA flight. They could have left the passengers stranded until the next Spirit flight with availability, maybe days later. But they never should have messed up in the first place by taking them off the plane. Spirit is required by law to pay the denied boarding compensation.

  • Peter Varhol

    But people use Spirit because they are cheap, and travelers are always on the lookout for the cheapest way to get from Point A to Point B. It doesn’t work out for a small portion of the travelers, but that doesn’t stop the rest of us. It may not even stop those inconvenienced from doing it again, although it should.

    I have commitments, and I have to be at certain places at certain times. I don’t always make it, but I make it more frequently than I would if I flew Spirit.

  • Chris Johnson

    Sounds a lot like RyanAir – O’Leary has been quoting as saying “They pay nothing, they’ll get nothing”.

  • KanExplore

    Rules are rules. Spirit needs to pay up in accordance with the law.

  • Tom McShane

    Soccer is the one played with the foot. The NFL plays pass ball.

  • THE. ABSOLUTE. WORST. AIRLINE. EVER.

  • Jim

    Can I get an amen and a hallelujah!?

  • Don Spilky

    Can this please be marked for an update/follow up? My sense of fair play and justice demands to know that DOT nailed Spirit and forced them to cough up the 400%

  • Bill

    My soccer team (middle school) and I use the term hand-egg for what the N(not)FL plays. Soccer is truly futbol as it is played with a ball-shaped ball (rather than an egg-shaped ball) and the feet (rather than the hands). It’s also a true team sport as it is reasonable possible for all 11 members of the team to “handle” the ball during each “play.” I truly wish US high schools would do away with hand-egg and embrace futbol.

  • Bill

    Hallelujah! Holy sh*t! and where’s the Tylenol!

  • Melissa Ballard Jones

    In cash not funny money.

  • Naoma Foreman

    I do not fly this airline.

  • Tom McShane

    Every score in futbol should could 6 points, so the game becomes more high-scoring.

  • jim6555

    Do we really need MORE reasons to hate Spirit? I doubt that anyone who regularly follows this site will ever fly on Spirit.

  • Chris Johnson

    They’ve never disappointed me and never will get the chance to do so, as I’ve never taken them and never will.

  • cscasi

    In other words, you don’t know for sure? You only “believe” or “think”? To me, that’s not really helpful

  • John McDonald

    don’t understand why they even got off the aircraft. What would cops have done to them ?

  • jmj

    I actually fly spirit because saving $500+ for a family flying (including luggage) is too hard to resist. I do have a threshold, though: I have to save $250 or more to even consider Spirit.

    I also defend spirit (on occasion) not because I like them, (I hate them). But because I think their rules are quite clear on their website and I think if you go in educated then you’re not as likely to have a problem.

    That being said, I agree that their customer service is horrendous (which why I hate them)–next to impossible to get someone live to talk to. Then you hear stories like this soccer one which confirm my hatred for Spirit.

    BTW, All airlines have stories like this. regular readers of elliott will know this.

  • Fishplate

    Arrested them for failing to obey an airline official.

  • John McDonald

    saying no I’m not getting off aircraft, call the police, is hardly failing to obey an airline official.

  • Fishplate

    Failing to obey the cabin crew certainly is. You can argue later, but as we’ve seen here countless times, if you argue with the steward, you automatically lose.

  • John McDonald

    not suggesting arguing with cabin crew(police). Just say politely, call the (real) police & don’t move.

  • LonnieC

    Are there really 12 people who think Spirit handled this correctly?

  • William Leeper

    What would you like me to say? Unfortunately, background information is supplied by our consumers when they contact us, and so with that said, I supplied the information I had.