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.