When James Shapiro’s flight is delayed and then canceled, Spirit emails him an offer of a free replacement ticket — but doesn’t follow through on its promise. Can our advocates shake loose from Spirit a refund for Shapiro’s substitute flight?
Question: My wife and I recently flew from Chicago-O’Hare Airport to Fort Lauderdale for a vacation in Boca Raton on Spirit Airlines. I’m a surgeon and had an operation scheduled for 7:30 a.m. the day after our return flight to Chicago.
Although we arrived at the Fort Lauderdale airport with plenty of time in advance of our scheduled departure time, we learned at check-in that our flight was delayed by 15 minutes. Then it was delayed for another two hours “because Chicago was supposedly overwhelmed.” (There wasn’t any inclement weather in Chicago and we never heard what this meant.) Then the flight was canceled altogether. The passengers were told to go to Spirit’s ticket counter for rebooking on the next available flight, “first come first serve.”
At the same time, I received an email from Spirit offering me replacement tickets “at no charge” by clicking on a hyperlink. Since my wife had gone to a recharging station to repower her smartphone, I couldn’t race the other passengers to the ticket counter. I clicked on the hyperlink in the email, which took me to Spirit’s website, but not at a page that offered free ticket rebooking.
As I needed to get home urgently and couldn’t find any way to rebook our flights for free as promised, I booked new seats for us on the next flight, which departed two hours later, for $576. I then spent an hour on the phone with Spirit’s customer service agents, in which I requested a refund for our canceled tickets as well as our replacement tickets — to no avail. The agents agreed to refund the canceled flights, but not to honor the email’s promise of replacement airfares “at no charge.”
I’ve since emailed Spirit customer service executives, asking for a refund of the replacement ticket costs, but all my emails were ignored. Can you help me get the replacement tickets refunded? — James Shapiro, Kenosha, Wis.
Answer: You definitely didn’t need this kind of trouble the night before performing a surgery.
But Spirit actually wasn’t contractually obligated to both fly you to your destination and refund your airfare. Its contract of carriage, the legal document that spells out the obligations it owes its customers, provides that in the event of flight cancellations,
When a customer holding a confirmed reservation on a Spirit flight which is delayed because of a schedule irregularity (including but not limited to, a missed connection, flight cancellation, omission of a scheduled stop, substitution of equipment, or schedule change), Spirit may rebook the customer on Spirit’s first flight on which seats are available to the customer’s original destination without additional charge. [italics ours] Our staff will focus on rebooking as many customers as possible on alternate flights, either direct to the destination or via connections through other airports to best accommodate the customer’s needs.
So its agents’ refusal to refund you the cost of your replacement tickets doesn’t violate its contract of carriage.
But assuming Spirit had a valid reason for canceling your flight to O’Hare, its agents should have upheld the promise it made in the email rather than leaving you to scramble and pay for a replacement flight.
When its agents ignored your emails, you might have escalated your complaint using the executive contacts for Spirit Airlines on our website. Instead, you turned to our advocacy team.
Our advocates reached out to Spirit Airlines on your behalf. Spirit has agreed to issue you a refund for the replacement tickets.