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.

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.

  • Bill___A

    I’m still not sure what happened here. Was he bumped (did the original flight fly) or not?
    Sorry to hear what happened to him, but things do happen. Sometimes you get some compensation, sometimes you don’t.

  • Hanope

    Its easy for Spirit to offer refunds, since their base fare is so cheap. And another reason I won’t fly with them.
    IMO, because airplane travel is so unique, and is so impactful when something goes wrong, there should be more regulation to protect consumers. But we know that’s not going to happen until there’s an administration and Congressional change.

  • James

    flightstats.com is a good reference for planning flights — it would show you that Spirit flights from Myrtle Beach to Boston are not reliable: ranked 0.9, among the lowest on-time rankings I’ve seen.

  • Lindabator

    flight that Sunday was cancelled – NOT a “bump” situation — and when this happens, you get the next available flight or a refund – book with someone like Spirit, who has no airline agreements, and they cannot even offer flying you on someone else

  • Lindabator

    we had those in place before — but folks like this pitched a fit to de-regulate, so it could be cheap to fly —- and so we saw a race to the bottom. Re-regulation would mean going back to the JetSet pricing in days of old, and then they would complain even louder

  • DChamp56

    Is there a way to tell if the flight indeed did happen, but without the OP? Just a thought.

  • Skeptic

    I wondered about this, too — I guess many of us don’t trust Spirit to tell the truth. There are numerous flight tracking websites that show activity at the airports involved. It would be relatively simple to scan for Spirit’s airline code (NK, I believe) in the departures and arrivals screens for the two airports on the relevant dates. If you see a flight when the airline claimed it was cancelled, that implies Fournier really was bumped.

  • Noah Kimmel

    First, as has been recommended on this site before, if you book spirit or allegiant, particularly on routes with sub-daily flights, you should purchase trip insurance or use a credit card that has delay protection. Part of your cheap base fare is the understanding that there are no other-airline accommodations, cancellation percentages are higher than others, and they do not pay for hotel, car, food, lost wages, or other items.

    Next, a cancellation is not a bump. A bump, or involuntary denied boarding is when flight still goes and the passenger is stopped at the gate from getting on. Cancel or changes to the flight overall do not trigger compensation and are not the same. The results are similar (you are out of your flight) but the DOT treats it differently.

    When was the flight schedule changed? It seems it was in advance.

  • AAGK

    The plane either flew or it did not. Flightstats, flightaware, is where to check. Why does he consider a flight cancelation so unusual? He needs to book a room by the airport, if he is tight on funds, then take the free shuttle to the rescheduled flight the following day. I am not sure why he needs a car rental. He can file a trip delay claim with his credit card for the hotel room. Ive never had an overbooked situation but I thought that usually occurs at the airport once the airline realizes too many folks showed up.

  • Rebecca

    You get what you pay for; if a flight isn’t full an airline like Spirit is losing money – so they cancel the flight. And they have relatively few flights to begin with, most people are stuck longer than one night.

  • Daddydo

    I happen to agree with most comments when Spirit is involved “time to spare, go by air”. You were not bumped! A refund is all that is due. There are very few inter-airline agreements any more outside of code share and alliances. Delta will not talk to American and V V. A person that needs to be in a place at a time should be on an airline that has plenty of options from point A to point B, so that if flight A cancels, there are other options for later that day. Always make sure that you are on an airline that has one several flights on several routings.
    We are no longer in a world of allow us to accommodate you sir. We are at the mercy of the airlines and they do not wiggle in your favor.
    After the last several “oops” with the airlines, people are trying to create their own cash cow situations. The airlines are not that stupid.

  • Michael__K

    Very disingenuous comment. We don’t need a government agency (CAB) literally decreeing fares and schedules to have reasonable consumer protection regulations.

    As part of the 1978 “deregulation” you allude to, the Department of Transportation was supposed to have broad powers to enact regulations to outlaw any “unfair or deceptive practices” by airlines. Of course the aviation industry lobby is extremely active and largely successful at blocking such regulations.

  • Michael__K

    Which trip insurance covers schedule changes by the travel vendor?

  • Noah Kimmel

    ah good catch on SC vs delay/cancel. I just tried tweeting a few providers, lets see what they say!

  • Michael__K

    I think you will find that nobody sells a policy with a Covered Reason which protects against the travel vendor canceling or re-scheduling for their own business reasons.

  • Lindabator


  • Noah Kimmel
  • Bill___A

    Thanks for the clarification. I always budget some extra money for “things that can happen”. Generally, I don’t have to use it, but I think it is important to realize that there can, from time to time, be extra unanticipated expenses one can incur. This would be one of those cases.

  • Annie M

    DOT requires passengers be booked on the next AVAILABLE flight or to be given a full refund.

    Spirit did all they were required to do. This is what happens when you book a flight with a carrier who doesn’t have a lot of other flights to put you on and has no codeshare agreements with other airlines.

  • Michael__K

    We already have the answer as this customer found out:

    As Allianz advised our advocates when we contacted Allianz on Hauck’s behalf, trip cancellation by a tour operator due to low registration is simply not a covered reason

  • Rebecca


    In this situation, an airline cancelled a flight. A government agency would have to dictate the schedule for an airline to not be allowed to cancel a flight, by definition. I’m not understanding the argument?

  • Michael__K

    Why would you have to dictate schedules? Spirit scheduled that flight and sold tickets on that flight of its own volition. If they change their minds and make a business decision to un-schedule that flight, then they should be on the hook to make their ticket-holding customers whole or face some sort of a penalty, just like a passenger faces change penalties if they change their mind.

    With a perishable dynamically-priced product, making the customer whole often costs more than a refund. If a hotel cancels your room months after booking, after rates have gone up, the hotel would normally be on the hook to arrange for a comparable replacement room for the same dates at no additional charge. But airlines are generally exempt from the consumer protection laws that apply to any other businesses.

  • Alan Gore

    No, the CAB regulation that was eliminated applied to routes and fares, not situations like this. We need a regulation requiring payment of specified consequential damages, like hotel nights or the cost of buying a walkup fare on another airline, when a flight is cancelled. Rather than raise fares in a competitive environment, carriers will respond by…simply not canceling flights on short notice.

  • michael anthony

    One of the main reasons a flight is canceled ahead of time is due to issues with equipment. There is a site that lists flight incidents and accidents on a daily basis. Each entry almost always ends with a notation that the return flight was canceled and paxs rescheduled for next day or 2 days later, depending location. If the problem is bad enough, disruptions on that route can last for days. Most carriers don’t keep a spare in a city, unless it’s a,major route served several times a day.

  • Rebecca

    All I’m saying is that you’d have to regulate the schedule. Even if Spirit simply created a schedule and submitted it to the FAA (who didn’t create said schedule), by definition they’re regulating the schedule by now telling Spirit they can’t change or cancel it.

    It’s not that I think its necessarily a bad thing. I don’t. I was just pointing out that in order to force airlines to stick to a schedule, even one they themselves originally created, any regulation would, by definition, involve regulating schedules. So I think its disingenuous to imply that fares as a whole wouldn’t go up, even a small amount, if a regulation was enacted forcing airlines to fly every route they committed to months prior and provide due care if they don’t.

    I’m not personally against this, I actually would be fine paying a relatively small amount more (up to 10% or so) if I was guaranteed the route and schedule I booked. I don’t normally book too far in advance, but I do find it reasonable, if nothing else because it gives incentive for on time scheduling. I always pay more for a direct flight, and I once had it switched to a long layover, nearly doubling my 5 hour travel time. Fortunately, I’m relatively flexible and was able to rebook a different date, but many folks aren’t. If there’s one thing I’ve learned here, it’s that people might pay lip service to paying more for better service, but the vast majority will put up with a lot of b.s. or take a gamble to save like $20. I’m not one of those people, and most of the regular commenters here aren’t either. But in general, as a whole, the flying public has proved time and again they’re willing to do just about anything to save $20.

  • Noah Kimmel

    tour operator and low registration is different from coverage of a part 121 scheduled carrier not operating its schedule. Not saying it will be covered, but not an apples-to-apples.

    Update https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c90e01dfcae359cff3727ab395788580ac04533c3aea6fcf787033c4807d90a4.png :

  • Noah Kimmel

    The characterization is flawed. Maybe at a macro level of removing a flight from a schedule for the rest of the season, but that isn’t how it is done on a daily operation basis. The implications would be quite challenging to keep up with – now you have a crew and a plane out of position. You have already paid for the plane, crew, and to some extent gas (via contract commitments). Likely now have to cancel 2+ flights (out and back) but generally more as Spirit runs point-to-point, not hub-out-hub.

    In this particular case, if it was a larger schedule change (not a single flight cancellation on a single day) then yea, it is possible the route was underperforming.

  • Noah Kimmel

    agreed. It is unfortunate and frustrating and all the rest, and I have much sympathy for the OP, but that is why Spirit offers lower fares – they don’t bear the costs of a more reliable operation.

  • James

    Another flaw to this: Spirit is the only airline offering a direct flight on this route. Many people, including me, have a strong preference for a direct flight over connecting flights (though I don’t think I’d consider Spirit even under these circumstances, I understand why someone might.)

  • Chris Johnson

    Flying Spirit is like playing Russian Roulette. You might save a few bucks and “win” but there’s always the chance something like this will happen and you end up paying far more than if you just booked on a full-service airline. I’ve flown them once and didn’t run into a problem like this but after hearing horror stories like this one, I make it a point to avoid them. They really are the “Ryanair of the US”.

  • Michael__K

    How is it different? They are all “Common carriers” per Allianz’s definition

    Common carrier: A company that’s licensed to carry passengers on land, water or in the air for a fee, not including car rental companies.

    And there is no Covered Reason for a ‘Common carrier’ to re-schedule your reservation for its own business reasons.

  • Michael__K

    Why would any schedules have to be submitted to any agency? Hotels are bound to honor your reservation (or walk you to a comparable property at no additional charge). What federal agency monitors hotel bookings? The customer can prove that they had a reservation (hotel or flight) if necessary.

    Europe (and other countries) already have schedule protections inside of 14-days from departure. Assuming this change occurred within 14-days of departure, Spirit would have owed each passenger 250 EUR compensation, plus hotel costs.

    In terms of cost: observe that fares in Europe are generally CHEAPER than fares for comparable distance flights in North America…

  • Michael__K

    Schedule resiliency and margin for error is within the control of the carrier. It’s not surprising that Spirit — which operates its aircraft about 3 to 4 more hours each day than most airlines — has this problem far more often than their competitors do.

    In the EU, there is penalty for changes within 14 days of departure (barring unavoidable “extraordinary circumstances”) and Spirit would have been on the hook for 250 EUR compensation plus hotel and meal costs.

  • ChelseaGirl

    It has nothing to do with Spirit being a low-cost airline. The same thing happend to me with American. They wouldn’t even give me miles as a goodwill gesture. I will not fly them again unless I have no choice.

  • cscasi

    Still, it would have been nicer if Spirit had taken the time to explain to him that the flight was cancelled; that it was not operated as originally scheduled and that he was not “bumped”.
    Even the explanation Spirit sent him after he contacted DOT did not fully address his questions. Spirit could have said in its answer that the flight was canceled for operational reasons; therefore the flight was not operated and therefore he was not “bumped”. An extra sentence would have provided a full explanation to his questions.
    I realize that most of us know that when a flight is cancelled, it does not mean that it was operated and he was just bumped for whatever reason.

  • cscasi

    Do we have a Civil Aeronautics Board? Wasn’t that dissolved after President Carter signed into law The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, This law phased out CAB’s economic regulation of the airlines, and CAB ceased to exist at the end of 1984.

  • Michael__K

    Did you read @Lindabator’s comment above? What regulations does she refer to (“we had those in place before“) that weren’t part of the CAB?

  • cscasi

    I agree. However, I have seen airlines cancel flights just because they did not have enough passengers scheduled to make it worthwhile to operate the flight.

  • Michael__K

    The interline agreements a carrier has in place are not necessarily public; even when they are public, the carrier has no contractual obligation to use the agreement to help a delayed passenger; and such agreements can also be canceled with little or no advance warning at anytime after you paid for your ticket.

    Delta and American discontinue interline agreement

  • joycexyz

    You can’t be “bumped” from a flight that didn’t exist. And if the flight was cancelled, it didn’t exist. Easy enough to check.

  • Jenny Zopa

    No, Spirit cancelled on this customer well in advance. Its not clear that the actual Spirit flight is cancelled, or whether Spirit is moving individual reservations to the next day due to an overbooking situation, which is what the customer is asserting. He will have to monitor the flight tracking websites on the day of his original flight to see if Spirit does indeed operate the flight or if its is actually cancelled.

  • What

    Simple–Don’t fly Spirit. Ever.

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