Spirit’s delay cost $210 — why won’t it pay?

By | November 15th, 2016

Spirit Airlines advertises itself as “Home of the Bare Fare.” It makes a point of noting on its home page that its fares are “fully unbundled. No ‘free’ bag. No ‘free’ drink. A ticket with us gets you and a personal item from A to B.”

But Rosanne Kelly’s parents found that Spirit didn’t do even that without delays — and refused to cover the costs for their hotel rooms when they lost a night of their stay.

What does an airline whose business model is based on providing absolutely nothing but the basics owe its passengers when it doesn’t get them and their personal items from point A to point B without delays?

Kelly’s parents, Vincent and Minnie Tinnirello, and their friend, Gloria Thaman, are elderly and have health issues and unalterable medication schedules. Sitting in airports for prolonged periods of time is uncomfortable for them. So they wanted inexpensive, direct flights with no stopovers. They purchased tickets on Spirit for flights from Cleveland to Tampa, Fla., for their vacation five months in advance.

Even before leaving their homes, the Tinnirellos and Thaman learned that their flight from Cleveland to Tampa was delayed. And when they arrived at the Spirit counter at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Spirit’s agent announced that there would be further delays.

The agent offered the Tinnirellos and Thaman $50 nontransferable coupons per person for future flights, which would expire within 60 days.

After a wait of over six hours, the Tinnirellos’ and Thaman’s flight took off for Tampa.

But after they arrived, the delays continued. Many Spirit flights arrived at the same time, but only one luggage carousel was available for all of Spirit’s flights. By the time the Tinnerellos and Thaman arrived at their hotel, they had already lost a day’s vacation, but were charged for the full day’s stay of $420 – two rooms that cost $210 apiece per day. And their return flight to Cleveland was also delayed by six hours.

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During the delays, the Tinnirellos and Thaman were given very little information about the reasons for the delays. They were also not given any complimentary refreshments. Needless to say, they aren’t happy with Spirit’s service, or lack thereof.

As Tinnirello puts it, “I do not feel that a $50 coupon with tight travel restrictions is compensation for the delays we experienced, the money we wasted, the time we spent in the airport, and the loss of our vacation time.” In addition, previously scheduled doctor appointments prevent the Tinnirellos from using the $50 coupon within the 60-day period.

They asked Spirit Airlines for reimbursement of the $420 for the hotel room costs for one day that they lost as a result of the delays, refunds of the baggage charges, as well as increases in the value and extensions of the expiration dates of the coupons Spirit gave them.

Spirit’s agent “apologized for the inconvenience” but offered no additional compensation, explaining that the flights “were delayed due to a mechanical issue.” She did offer the following explanation for the lack of complimentary refreshments during the delay:

Your Bare Fare doesn’t include refreshments — even water — because it costs money to stock them and gas to carry them. We have snacks and drinks for sale if you need a little somethin’. You never pay for someone else’s options and even if you purchase a few extras, it’s likely you’ll fly with us for less than any other airline.

Spirit agreed to refund the baggage fees after several months, but refused any additional compensation because the flight was not canceled.

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After writing to Spirit’s CEO (who did not respond) and filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Kelly turned to us. Could our advocates help her parents and Thaman get any more compensation from Spirit?

Sadly for Kelly, the Tinnirellos, and Thaman, the answer is no. While it’s understandable that they wanted cheap flights without stopovers, Spirit is not the airline to book for customers who need more than minimal amenities, such as elderly customers and others for whom delays would result in intense physical discomfort. It ranks low, only 62 out of a possible 100 points, on the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

As patronizing as they must have found Spirit’s agent’s reply – and “needing a little somethin’” during a six-hour delay is really infuriating — the reason Spirit’s airfares are so inexpensive –“ultra-low,” as Spirit advertises them — is that it charges for everything beyond base fares, including bags and drinks.

Spirit does that because it can. And Spirit makes no bones about it in its marketing.

Spirit’s contract of carriage doesn’t help out either. It provides that:

Times shown in a timetable or elsewhere are not guaranteed and form no part of the terms of transportation. …Schedules are subject to change without notice. Spirit is not responsible or liable for making connections (on its own flights or flights of any other carrier), or for failing to operate any flight according to schedule, or for changing the schedule of any flight….
Spirit will not assume expenses incurred as a result of a flight delay, cancellation, or schedule change.

Nor does any airline reimburse for lost time.

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Our advocates reached out to Spirit on the Tinnirellos’ and Thaman’s behalf. But we’re well aware that Spirit had no obligation to offer them anything more. And it didn’t.

Therefore, we have to file their complaint as a Case Dismissed.

Did Spirit do enough for these passengers?

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