I was bumped from my Spirit flight. Wasn’t I?

When Bob Fournier received an email from Spirit Airlines indicating that his flight had been rescheduled, he thought he had been bumped. From where he sat, he was facing the same circumstances as if he had been involuntarily denied boarding: Not only was he unable to fly home at the originally scheduled time, but he also would have to book a hotel room for a couple of extra nights, rent a car and miss a day of work.

But Spirit claims he wasn’t bumped and is therefore not entitled to involuntary denied boarding compensation.

Fournier wants Spirit to compensate him for the expenses he incurred because of the change in his flight schedule.

“I find it totally unethical for me to book and pay for a flight and for their convenience they toss me off without any compensation,” he says. “I am expected to incur all the extra expenses for the change they made and they accept no responsibility. They simply offer a refund. This is like the United Airlines case except my face has not been bloodied yet.”

Since the forcible removal of Dr. David Dao from a recent United flight, we’ve received many requests for help from air passengers who believed that they were bumped from their flights. These travelers believe that they are entitled to involuntary denied boarding compensation from their airlines, as well as reimbursement of additional expenses they incur because of their inability to travel on their previously booked flights.

But in several instances, the airlines canceled or rescheduled their flights, which absolves them from owing involuntary denied boarding compensation or reimbursement to the passengers.

This seems to be what happened to Fournier. He had booked a golf trip in Myrtle Beach, S.C., with eight friends, flying round trip on Spirit from Boston via Baltimore. But before he departed on the trip, Fournier received an email notification from Spirit that his return flight had been changed to the day following his originally scheduled flight. Spirit provided no explanation for the change in schedule.

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He contacted Spirit’s customer service to request that his reservation be reinstated as originally booked, but Spirit refused. The only assistance Spirit offered Fournier was to offer to cancel his reservation:

I have a confirmed round trip flight from Boston to and from Myrtle Beach made on January 1, 2017. The return flight was confirmed and paid for to return Sunday night. Spirit sends me a change that has me coming home Monday night, which means I need to rent a car, book a hotel, and miss a day of work. Spirit offered to cancel my reservation but I have already booked and paid for my golf trip with seven other guys. I suggested that they either pay for my flight home on American Airlines (about $650) or pay for my hotel and car rental for the additional day. All options were declined. When I asked to speak to a supervisor they hung up. Their mistake is costing me additional dollars and expense and with no cost to them. That is absolutely unfair. I need your help to resolve this dispute fairly.

Fournier was not happy with this offer. He had read a number of articles about United’s removal of Dao from its flight. He wanted to know if he had been selected for bumping from the flight:

Thank you for your email regarding Spirit Airlines changing my flight arrangements coming home to Boston from Myrtle Beach. I need some help to restore the flight I originally booked…

Your offer to cancel my reservation does not work for me because I already paid for the golf, my share of the condo and car rental… The problem is staying another day requires me to rent a hotel and a car and spend the day by myself and out of work.

Is the change in the flight due to the flight being canceled or is it because Spirit overbooked and needs to reduce the number of passengers and I was the chosen one? If the change is a weather-related or safety issue it is completely understandable. If Spirit overbooked the flight then is it ethical that I have to incur all the added expense and Spirit makes no accommodations?…

Please let me know what Spirit Airlines can do to help me. Thank you.

P.S. I wanted to speak to a supervisor; however, your representative either hung up or cut me off while trying to transfer me.

When Fournier didn’t receive a response from Spirit that he considered satisfactory, he filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Spirit then contacted Fournier in response to the complaint, but reiterated that it could only issue him a refund for his airfare. It refused to offer compensation for his expenses:

First, I wanted to explain that there are times when an airline will make changes to its schedule. These changes are based on operational needs as our routes and schedules are impacted by many factors, and I understand these changes may not always have a positive impact on a customer. I’m very sorry your reservation was affected by a schedule change. When an itinerary experiences a change greater than 15 minutes, we’ll happily provide our next available flight, or if this isn’t satisfactory, we can issue a refund…

Our Reservations team member correctly let you know that we can provide our next available flight, or if this isn’t satisfactory, we can issue a refund. Since you weren’t happy about these options, our team member also offered to re-book you through a nearby city. In these situations, we don’t offer compensation for expenses as a result of the change. Given that our Reservations team member was unable to assist you, you requested to speak to a supervisor. A review of the phone call shows you ended the call on your end before speaking to a supervisor that day. Robert, while we can’t offer any compensation, I can offer a full refund of your reservation.

Fournier might have escalated his complaint using our executive contacts for Spirit, but he contacted our advocates instead, asking for help in getting compensation for his expenses.

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Unfortunately for Fournier, Spirit’s contract of carriage indicates that while it will do its best to place passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding on the next available flight, compensation is not available for passengers on canceled flights.

Fournier told our advocates that he believes that the Baltimore-to-Boston leg of his return flight was canceled. Apparently, the next available flight to Boston did not depart until the following day. Our advocates reached out to Spirit to get its side of the story, but no one at Spirit has responded to our contacts.

So Fournier’s case has ended up in a sand trap. We are writing about it to warn other travelers that they are not necessarily entitled to compensation if their flights are rescheduled or canceled. Air passengers who are unable to fly should get as many details as they can about the reasons for being prevented from flying to determine exactly what they are entitled to before filing a compensation claim or a complaint, because we may not be able to help them.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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