Maybe Anthony Weiner needs this woman’s phone number

Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock
Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock
No American airline thinks of its customers in quite the same way Spirit Airlines does. And the feeling is mutual, as far as many of its passengers are concerned.

If you have any doubts, look no further than last week’s tasteless Anthony Weiner promotion. Seriously, folks. You can’t make this stuff up.

Or, for a more G-Rated discussion, consider what happened to Catherine Migliano when she tried to cancel her $9 Fare Club membership recently. The carrier’s corporate intransigence may have opened the entire airline industry to millions of dollars in damage claims.

Spirit’s “club” offers access to lower fares and discounts, but it is also — and this is clearly disclosed on the airline’s site — a self-renewing membership. It’s a never-ending source of complaints, for a variety of reasons.

Migliano decided to cancel her membership, so she went to the Spirit website and told them she wanted “out.” She collected evidence of the cancellation, including screen shots of the transaction.

But Spirit continued to bill her the $59 annual fee.

She asked it to stop and refund her money. Spirit refused. So she disputed her credit card bill. Amazingly, it didn’t think much of her evidence and sided with the airline in the dispute. She believes it’s because she charged it to her Barclay Frontier Airline card, which, I admit, is an interesting theory.

Maybe Spirit should have taken a moment to research this complaint, if not the customer. Migliano has PhD in neuroscience, as a matter of fact.

Anyone with basic Google-Fu skills could have told you the refund was the easy way to go.

“I filed complaints against with both the Florida Division of Consumer Services and the Florida Attorney General’s Office,” she explains. “Since Spirit is based in Miramar, I also filed a complaint with Broward County.”

And that’s not all.

“I took advantage of Florida insurance and tort law,” she adds. “I suffered financial damages, so I sent Spirit the standard statutory 627 letter putting them on notice of a potential claim for losses, damages and injuries. The statute gives them 30 days to provide me with their liability carrier information, which obviously, it did not.”

After 45 days with no response, Migliano filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Financial Services’ Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

She received a full refund from Spirit, plus a reimbursement of her costs.

“It was a long way to get it,” says Migliano. “But it was worth it to spank Spirit.”

Migliano thinks she’s discovered a loophole that other airline passengers can take advantage of, via Florida’s Chapter 627 statute. I’ll let her explain:

My biggest lesson in all this is to send these 627 letters to any carrier I feel has wronged me or left me with financial damages.

None of them take the statutory letter seriously, opening the way for a Civil Remedy Notice and for the state to get involved.

Now, Global Aerospace Insurance, Northwest Airlines’ insurance carrier, must pony up for damages for cancellations, downgrades and a stolen camera from 2006 and 2007 because Northwest acted like [expletive] to me back then with their carrier agreement and then went silent.


Migliano may have uncovered a way to circumvent federal pre-emption and stick it to an airline that sticks it to you. Then again, she may be using a state regulation in a way it was never meant to be used.

If Spirit hadn’t taken such a hard line on its refunds — after all, what did it stand to lose by refunding a “club” membership in the overall scheme of things — then this passenger wouldn’t have opened what could be a Pandora’s box for everyone else to exploit.

Spirit likes to think of itself as the McDonald’s of the skies, but even McDonald’s understands it’s in the hospitality business. When you have a problem with your burger, it doesn’t get thrown back in your face.

If Weiner wants to punish Spirit, then maybe someone needs to send him Migliano’s number.

Should passengers use state laws creatively to encourage airlines to compensate them when they have a damage claim?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • polexia_rogue

    quite awesome :applause: not everyone would be as resourceful as her in the face of an airline related problem.

  • LFH0

    It is fairly difficult to use state law because federal preemption, 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b), which applies to state enactment and enforcement of laws related to a “price, route, or service of an air carrier,” has generally been interpreted quite broadly. Nonetheless, just this past May the U.S. Supreme Court decided Dan’s City Used Cars, Inc. v. Pelkey, 569 U.S. ___ (2013), in which a limitation was set on whether or not a price was actually related to a transportation service subject to federal preemption. In the case of the Spirit Airlines $9 fare “club,” the price might not actually be related to transportation service, so much as it is related to club membership dues. I think it would be interesting to see a case in which it were to be litigated the question of whether charges related to the carrier’s “club” are actually preempted.

  • jpp42

    Err, Chris – I’m not sure your headline conveys the meaning you intended. Don’t you know what Anthony Weiner is known for doing with women’s phone numbers? :)

  • larry

    She may want to fire Barclay’s bank for customer no service while she is at it. They are the pits. I fired them about a year ago and could not be happier. Amex (1) and Chase (2) rate the best on J D Powers credit card ratings.

  • BillCCC

    I voted yes along with everyone(so far). I hope we are all willing to to accord the airlines the same latitude when they use the law creatively to deny a claim.

  • sirwired

    She hasn’t found a “magic” remedy around federal pre-emption. But that’s ok, because Contract of Carriage and Consumer Credit violations can be litigated at the local level without a problem. States cannot write their own laws that conflict with federal laws (like write state laws specifically regulating airlines), but that does NOT mean you cannot sue companies in state courts for federal law violations, or good old-fashioned torts. Jurisdiction rules are complex, but suffice it to say that an airline involved in an itinerary that included your local airport should be enough for the state court to have jurisdiction.

    That’s ok Chris, Charlie Leocha gets it wrong too, despite the fact that the Federal DOT has a whole web page on how to sue your airline.

    Even if she has found a state law she can subject Spirit to (as company operating in Florida, it is covered by Florida law, Florida just can’t try and regulate, say, airline safety or passenger ticket contracts), but I’m not sure it’s that valuable. I’m pretty sure the remedy for violating this law isn’t an automatic finding in your favor. Maybe the state of Florida might eventually annoy Spirit about it, but that isn’t any great help to a consumer.

  • lost_in_travel

    I looked at the Spirit advert mentioned and also saw the Royal Prince Ad. Wiener is tasteless but at least he did the deeds worthy of the parody himself. The baby advert looks like a mash up of Michael Jackson – notice the one glittery glove – holding his son up and then as everyone feared could but did not happen, dropping him and the new Royal’s birth. MJ is dead but his son is alive. He did nothing to deserve this tasteless mash up of two unrelated events to sell a cheap airline seat. The Royal Prince did nothing either, but at least he has Buckingham Palace to speak for him.

  • SoBeSparky

    Knowing the composition of the Florida State government, this will be changed if it is a meaningful challenge to Florida corporations. The monolithic Republican government juggernaut never saw corporate favoritism it did not embrace.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Their weiner promotion is actually kind of funny. Tasteless, yes. But still funny. Outside of Weiner’s family, that’s been a pretty victimless crime. Nothing wrong with poking a bit of fun. And Chris gave them the attention they were seeking, so a marketing win for them.

  • TonyA_says

    At least he is funny. The others are just plain old hypocrites.
    The guy and his wife used to live in an apt/condo near our office in Queens (district he represented). After the texting scandal, he moved to much nicer diggs.
    Lesson: America rewards the “best” of us (sarcasm)…

  • Richard from France

    Passengers should use ANY laws (not just state laws) at their disposition to force (not encourage) airlines to compensate them when they have a “legitimate” damage claim.

    My favorites are the European consumer protection laws such as EU261 (but not just limited to that, others involve the responsibility of travel agents). They seem to be much better then the US laws, state or federal.

  • Carchar

    I “fired” AMEX long ago, when they put me through hell for a mistake they made.

  • emanon256

    Heck yeah! The OP is my hero!!!

  • BearFlagNative

    If these laws are available to the ordinary citizen and/or traveler, why not use them? The airlines and/or other businesses do all they can to “blow you off”, when a person brings a problem to their attention, especially if that problem might cost them any money. Personally, I believe that EACH State should have a sub-office within the State Attorney Generals office and staff that handle ALL cases like these. Why should any person have to “dig out” these laws or “remedies” on their own; when the airlines or businesses who employ a “screw you” attitude to their customer base and fully expect that/those person(s) to just go away because they are not fully knowledgeable with applicable laws. KUDOS to this woman for her actions, as she has shown others it can be done.

  • James E

    I would say preemption would def. Apply in this case if the airline really wanted to spend the money to fight it. Counsel probably advised against it. But millions? I doubt it. I’m sure the DC would side with the airline. So if someone was willing to take it all the way which based on many opinions the appellate would affirm. I would highly doubt SCOTUS would grant Certiorari.

  • nd

    The companies use the laws creatively, so it is only right that consumers follow and play by the exact same rules.