Hey Spirit Airlines, have a heart!

By | February 12th, 2016

Just before Ralph Dehner’s flight from Atlantic City to Orlando, he suffered a heart attack. He spent a month in the hospital recovering.

It gets worse. His flights were on Spirit Airlines, which is notoriously strict about refunds and changes. And wouldn’t you know it — that’s exactly what happened to him.

His wife tried to cancel their reservations and obtain a refund. But she was told that Spirit doesn’t offer cash refunds, which is “why Spirit is able to keep their fares low.”

Per the Spirit Airlines website:

Cancellations must be made 5 days or more prior to scheduled departure date and are subject to a fee of $120 per person plus any cancellation fees imposed by travel suppliers, such as hotel cancellation fees or charges.

Spirit did offer full credit, but the Dehners had to book by April; or, alternatively, a $20 discount on future tickets. But Dehner has two more extensive heart surgeries scheduled, which will make any travel in the near future virtually impossible.

The Dehners would like Spirit to extend the travel date or to at least refund their $120 baggage payment. But Spirit won’t budge — not for him, not for us.

We tried contacting Spirit on his behalf. In response, it asked us to change some of its executives’ names on our site. Odd. We can’t figure out what one has to do with the other.

Here’s what we can’t figure out: What does extending Dehner’s ticket credit have to do with keeping fares low? Would Spirit actually lose money if it allowed him another six months or a year to use the ticket credit?

Related story:   Spirit's delay cost $210 -- why won't it pay?

Other airlines allow a ticket credit to be used for a year from the date of the initial booking. Only Spirit shortens that period, and for no apparent reason than that it makes the credit harder to use. But there’s no proof the airline would lose money by allowing the passenger to use the ticket he’d already paid for.

So our advocacy team felt an extension wasn’t too much to ask for. Instead, we got a request to remove an executive’s name, followed by radio silence.

So strange.

Come on Spirit, is it asking too much to have a little heart?

UPDATE: After this story published, an elated Dehner wrote to our advocacy team with some good news: “Spirit called to say they’re refunding my money!” In disbelief, we asked which money the airline has promised to refund. The baggage fees? The fare? Well, it’s no wonder Dehner is happy — Spirit has decided to refund all his money.

It appears Spirit has a heart, after all.

  • Lee

    While I think it would have been considerate/decent of them to at least offer an extension, I just don’t count on corporate entities doing the right thing most of the time so – travel insurance should really just be the second thing one buys after their first dime spent on a flight/trip/whatever.

    The world is an expensive place; imagine what might have happened if he had made it to his destination, had the heart attack and then found that his health insurance didn’t cover him out of state (many don’t – unless Medicare or a very rich health insurance policy).

    So, while he likely would get covered for emergency services, he may have had to to return home for follow up surgeries to have them covered and maybe that would not have been possible for him to travel after the emergency. (Again, this is assuming his health plan had limitations which so many of them do).

    Again – this is an issue people really need to check before traveling –

    I am curious, however. Did you remove that executive’s name as requested? I am hoping not UNLESS he/she is no longer with Spirit. That, to me, would not be a good precedent for this website – just my opinion, of course.

  • Mel65

    While I certainly sympathize with the OP, the fact is, they entered into this agreement with their eyes open. They got a cheap fare and that’s what they wanted. People who gamble with their money on these types of airlines, don’t get to be angry when the house wins. And, by the way, the house ALWAYS wins.

  • Mark Letham

    The only airlines out of AC are Air Canada and Spirit, not a lot of choices. You can drive an hour to Philly (off peak) or to Newark Liberty which really aren’t that convenient for more choices in carriers.

  • Flatlander

    Sorry but if I had a heart attack getting a refund for a missed flight would be the least of my concerns. Be happy to be alive, stop being greedy, and eat the loss of a few hundred bucks. If the heart attack happened just before the flight Spirit may or may not have been able to sell that seat to anyone else and by flying a no-frills airline with discount tickets and without travel insurance there is a certain amount of assumed risk.

  • Chris Johnson

    This is Spirit Airlines we’re talking about here. Have a heart? Are you kidding me? Judging from all the horror stories I’ve read both here and elsewhere, the money you save on Spirit over other airlines just isn’t worth it. Much like RyanAir in Europe, flying with them is a gamble. Buyer beware.

  • sirwired

    Well, the ability to pocket the money increases Spirit’s profits, which does, indirectly, enable them to keep fares low.

    Spirit PRIDES itself on customer-hostility, so this result should not, in any way, be surprising. You Get What You Pay For.

  • sirwired

    They’ve been this way for many years. It apparently hasn’t slowed them down so far.

  • 42NYC

    I feel for the OP and wish him a speedy recovery.

    That said, you bought a ticket on spirit. They readily admit they ‘nickel and dime’ the passengers in order to keep fares low. They dont hide that seats are cramped, nothing is free and changes are costly. For many passengers, the cost savings is worth the hassle, for others, it isn’t.

    I struggle, in 2016, to have sympathy for passengers who were burned by Spirit.

  • Jim

    Not even Air Canada anymore…

  • Greedy? Wow..that seems a bit cold. Wanting an extension of time for something you paid for but won’t get to use is now called “greedy”? Or asking for baggage fees refunded when there was no baggage? Greedy?

  • Annie M

    Again, another traveler who didn’t buy travel insurance that would have reimbursed him. Sigh…….

  • taxed2themax

    I don’t think they show “hostility” per se. I think they have (by comparison to other airlines) fairly restrictive policies … and… I think they enforce them on a fairly consistent basis (unlike other airlines). I think if you don’t go outside of their policies there really is no “hostility” at all. True, all of this means the passenger isn’t likely going to get as many ‘breaks’ (for lack of a better word) on Spirit as they might get with other airlines – but this to me isn’t hostile. It is Spirit choosing their business plan/model and applying it.
    When I think of hostility, I think of ill-will, war or similar. I don’t honestly think Spirit harbors any ill-will towards their passengers. I think it appears to the outside world who reads these kinds of stories that it may be the case, because I think they’ve viewed from an emotional basis, but Spirit looks and acts on them from a matter-of-fact point of view.
    I am not a big advocate for their chosen model as I don’t think it is one for long-term success over multiple phases of the airline business, but for right now, where there’s a huge focus on price, I think it works; but I have some reservations how well it will work when the business moves into other phases, where price is not as much of a factor as it is today, but services and the like have higher purchasing decision impact

  • KarlaKatz

    “… stop being greedy,”…


    intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.

  • Fishplate

    Corporations aren’t people. How can they have hearts?

  • jim6555

    I have absolutely no sympathy for anyone with a normal or greater IQ who makes the choice to fly on Spirit. Their policies regarding cancelled flights and ticket refunds are the absolute worst for passengers. Because of fare add-ons, the total cost of a Spirit ticket can often be more than the cost of flying on an airline with more consumer friendly policies. Also, the reduced seat pitch of 28″ will make most passengers very uncomfortable during their journey. If someone suggests that you travel on Spirit, you should immediately know that they are not your friend and treat them as you would treat a person who is trying to harm you.

  • Éamon deValera

    I occasionally fly on Spirit. I weigh the loss of the cost of the ticket if I can’t fly before booking.

    Also I try to pay extra for the big front seat and not take any luggage. I’m comfortable with what they offer.

    That said I’m not taking a flight over 90 minutes or so on them.

    That said Spirit might find good will a bit more valuable than any revenue from a change fee in certain cases. This is one such case.

  • Éamon deValera

    Sue them. It is very easy in small claims court. Fulton and Clayton counties (in which the Atlanta airport is located) both have alternative dispute resolution programs available through their court clerk. Unfortunately they’re no longer free. Fulton’s is $75 for the first 3 hours of mediation.

    I’ve used ADR in disputes with airlines before. I’ve never had them actually show up for mediation after being notified of the mediation conference by the clerk. Each and every time the airline has settled prior to mediation with what I considered an equitable settlement.

    ADR is a nice way of having a third party evaluate the facts and render a binding decision.

  • Suzanne

    Unfortunately people who fly Spirit are counting on them to deliver what they paid for, and in this case, it should not be the insurance company’s job to pay this claim (for my son and his family, not for the man who had the heart attack, in which case I agree with you.). I am a licensed insurance agent and have been a professional travel agent for 26 years. We count on the airlines to deliver, and rule 240 should have covered my son and his family.

  • Suzanne

    Eamon de Valera (love it)…..my son does not live in Georgia; he and his family drove 5 hours to get here to take advantage of Spirit’s low prices. It is a waste of time for him to miss work, drive to Atlanta, go to court, and pay for a hotel and food. We expected Spirit to fulfill their end of the contract and tell the truth, and they did neither! Personally, I wouldn’t be caught dead on Spirit, but my son was on a very tight budget. Since Spirit only flies to Peru once a week, they should have accommodated them on another carrier like American…which had plenty of seats. Some people don’t have a lot of money but need to see a dying relative for the last time. They thought it would be okay, but never again. Spirit will not stay in business.

  • Suzanne

    Any reputable airline would have taken care of the people properly.

  • Éamon deValera

    You can sue or use the ADR in any place with nexus – any place that has some relationship between you and the airline. You can do it in the county in which the departing or arriving airport is, where you live, or where the airline has an office.

    My grandfather liked the name as well as did my Father who named me after him and my nephew who share the same name likes it as well.

  • Tigger57

    I wish you would stop concentrating on the people that have problems and want to break the rules and concentrate more on the the people that followed all the rules and got screwed anyway!

We want your feedback. Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.