Spirit’s delay cost $210 — why won’t it pay?

By | November 15th, 2016

Spirit Airlines advertises itself as “Home of the Bare Fare.” It makes a point of noting on its home page that its fares are “fully unbundled. No ‘free’ bag. No ‘free’ drink. A ticket with us gets you and a personal item from A to B.”

But Rosanne Kelly’s parents found that Spirit didn’t do even that without delays — and refused to cover the costs for their hotel rooms when they lost a night of their stay.

What does an airline whose business model is based on providing absolutely nothing but the basics owe its passengers when it doesn’t get them and their personal items from point A to point B without delays?

Kelly’s parents, Vincent and Minnie Tinnirello, and their friend, Gloria Thaman, are elderly and have health issues and unalterable medication schedules. Sitting in airports for prolonged periods of time is uncomfortable for them. So they wanted inexpensive, direct flights with no stopovers. They purchased tickets on Spirit for flights from Cleveland to Tampa, Fla., for their vacation five months in advance.

Even before leaving their homes, the Tinnirellos and Thaman learned that their flight from Cleveland to Tampa was delayed. And when they arrived at the Spirit counter at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Spirit’s agent announced that there would be further delays.

The agent offered the Tinnirellos and Thaman $50 nontransferable coupons per person for future flights, which would expire within 60 days.

After a wait of over six hours, the Tinnirellos’ and Thaman’s flight took off for Tampa.

But after they arrived, the delays continued. Many Spirit flights arrived at the same time, but only one luggage carousel was available for all of Spirit’s flights. By the time the Tinnerellos and Thaman arrived at their hotel, they had already lost a day’s vacation, but were charged for the full day’s stay of $420 – two rooms that cost $210 apiece per day. And their return flight to Cleveland was also delayed by six hours.

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During the delays, the Tinnirellos and Thaman were given very little information about the reasons for the delays. They were also not given any complimentary refreshments. Needless to say, they aren’t happy with Spirit’s service, or lack thereof.

As Tinnirello puts it, “I do not feel that a $50 coupon with tight travel restrictions is compensation for the delays we experienced, the money we wasted, the time we spent in the airport, and the loss of our vacation time.” In addition, previously scheduled doctor appointments prevent the Tinnirellos from using the $50 coupon within the 60-day period.

They asked Spirit Airlines for reimbursement of the $420 for the hotel room costs for one day that they lost as a result of the delays, refunds of the baggage charges, as well as increases in the value and extensions of the expiration dates of the coupons Spirit gave them.

Spirit’s agent “apologized for the inconvenience” but offered no additional compensation, explaining that the flights “were delayed due to a mechanical issue.” She did offer the following explanation for the lack of complimentary refreshments during the delay:

Your Bare Fare doesn’t include refreshments — even water — because it costs money to stock them and gas to carry them. We have snacks and drinks for sale if you need a little somethin’. You never pay for someone else’s options and even if you purchase a few extras, it’s likely you’ll fly with us for less than any other airline.

Spirit agreed to refund the baggage fees after several months, but refused any additional compensation because the flight was not canceled.

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After writing to Spirit’s CEO (who did not respond) and filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Kelly turned to us. Could our advocates help her parents and Thaman get any more compensation from Spirit?

Sadly for Kelly, the Tinnirellos, and Thaman, the answer is no. While it’s understandable that they wanted cheap flights without stopovers, Spirit is not the airline to book for customers who need more than minimal amenities, such as elderly customers and others for whom delays would result in intense physical discomfort. It ranks low, only 62 out of a possible 100 points, on the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

As patronizing as they must have found Spirit’s agent’s reply – and “needing a little somethin’” during a six-hour delay is really infuriating — the reason Spirit’s airfares are so inexpensive –“ultra-low,” as Spirit advertises them — is that it charges for everything beyond base fares, including bags and drinks.

Spirit does that because it can. And Spirit makes no bones about it in its marketing.

Spirit’s contract of carriage doesn’t help out either. It provides that:

Times shown in a timetable or elsewhere are not guaranteed and form no part of the terms of transportation. …Schedules are subject to change without notice. Spirit is not responsible or liable for making connections (on its own flights or flights of any other carrier), or for failing to operate any flight according to schedule, or for changing the schedule of any flight….
Spirit will not assume expenses incurred as a result of a flight delay, cancellation, or schedule change.

Nor does any airline reimburse for lost time.

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Our advocates reached out to Spirit on the Tinnirellos’ and Thaman’s behalf. But we’re well aware that Spirit had no obligation to offer them anything more. And it didn’t.

Therefore, we have to file their complaint as a Case Dismissed.

Did Spirit do enough for these passengers?

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  • Mark

    I understand that Spirit is a bare-bones airline – but they surely have a basic duty of care to passengers in such a scenario?

    In Europe passengers in this situation would be entitled to EUR 250 compensation each – plus food / drink while they are delayed (although – this often takes the form of a laughable EUR 5 voucher). I don’t think this is wholly unreasonable. The lack of consumer rights in this case is quite shocking.

  • Patrica

    This “business model” is sick. It(they?) seems to lack ANY element human compassion. I believe it’s been said in the Forums before: Spirit is a “freight” airline, you are cargo… IF there were even a little kindness shown, I would not be this harsh in my evaluation.

  • Jeff W.

    Really, really hard to answer the poll.

    On one hand, Spirit didn’t do anything for them. But Spirit doesn’t do anything for anyone, so they were treated just like any other passenger — no favors.

    Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. If you are a passenger with special considerations, the article said it all — don’t fly Spirit.

  • Kairho

    If Spirit had abandoned them in a field miles from anything that would be one thing. But they were not abandoned and were in airports with food, drink and comfort available. If you want additional hand holding, buy additional hand holding.


    I do not like Spirit and would fly them only if they were the sole airline available to travel. Did it once and never again. We had similar delays with no real customer service.
    But I am confused at this post. You say towards the beginning of the post that they lost a night of their stay. Then you mention lost of day of their vacation. Did they arrive late and use the hotel rooms? Or did they arrive the next day and have to pay for a room they were unable to use?
    Spirit did not provide enough during the airport delay. They should have given both information and vouchers for refreshments during the delay. But most airlines, both major carriers and the low-cost carriers seldom, if ever, pay for a hotel room not used because of delays. And I doubt any airline would pay for a room that was actually used.
    I am coming across as an industry apologist here, but the post is rather confusing when it comes to that hotel room. What time did they arrive in Tampa and did they use the hotel room? We read here time and again of air carriers not paying for lost wages, financial compensation for arriving late in the day at a resort , nor delays that cause people to miss a cruise or having to pay a no-show charge at a hotel because of substantial delays. Some of this would be covered if we had a similar rule to the EU. But I cannot answer the question as I do not know what time they arrived and if they actually stayed in the hotel that they want Spirit to pay for.

  • Kerr

    I don’t know which carriers fly CLE-TPA nonstop (UA?), but the the OP should look at different ones as the passengers require a higher level of care than most carriers offer.

    I’m not sure I understand the basis of the hotel claim. If because of delays you check in at midnight instead of 3:00 PM, sure you’ve lost the day’s activities but you haven’t lost that night at the hotel.

  • cscasi

    I voted no; however I know the airline can do just what it did because of the rules it has written (which should make the vote a yes). I believe Spirit is in business to make money and even though it seems it runs a pretty poor airline, it does not care about its delays and subsequent treatment of delayed passengers. This is yet another example of why people should check out the various airlines before booking flight on them. Spirit does not code share nor is it in any affiliated group, so when it has issues one cannot just get transferred onto another airline (more probably because Spirit’s revenue tickets are not worth much to another airline.
    Yes, I understand they wanted a direct flight and that every airline experiences delays for whatever reason(s), but it is obvious this Spirit has more and that is why it is ranked as it is.

  • cscasi

    True, but this is how it is with some airlines in our country. Airlines were deregulated because passengers demanded it and since that time certain problems have continued to manifest themselves and grow.

  • Regina Litman

    It’s funny you should use the abandoning in a field analogy because that evokes for me the image of Philadelphia’s “alternate” airport in Trenton (TTN), or rather, a few miles outside of Trenton, surrounded by fields. Right now, the only airline serving TTN is Frontier (F9), which operates a lot like Spirit. TTN doesn’t have any public transportation coming on site, as far as I know. The best way to actually get to Philadelphia without renting a car is to take a cab to the train station in West Trenton (or the somewhat further one in downtown Trenton) and take a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) train.

    My regular SEPTA train ride home departs not long after a Frontier flight from Detroit (910) is due in. I occasionally see folks at the station or already on the train with bags with tags marked “F9 910 TTN”, which I see as code for, “I am trying to get from Detroit to Philadelphia but have ended up in a corn field somewhere in New Jersey.”

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    just don’t fly on rotten airlines like Spirit. They are cheap for a reason.

  • Lindabator

    they were delayed 6 hours, so arrived late – so feel that since they lost a day’s “vacation” they should be compensated. Not only is it not something any airline would do, they DID arrive the same day, and DID use the hotel, so not entitled anyway

  • Lindabator

    but no other airlines is going to feed you in the airport BEFORE you even board the flight – thats what the restaurants and snack shops are for – or plan ahead and bring your own munchies

  • Mark

    Are they free to leave the airport and return in six hours? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the answer is no. They are stuck in the airport due to Spirit’s actions, and if they want food / drink, can only get overpriced airport food.

    The flight is normally 2h 40. They could reasonably have expected to bring sustenance to cover 4 hours. Adding a further 6 hours to this is essentially necessitates having to buy a full meal.

    There’s a reason why the EU regulated to cover scenarios like this – hopefully similar regulation will eventually find its way over to the US. If nothing else, it creates a strong economic penalty for delay that encourages airlines to promptly address maintenance issues. Upshot is that Ryanair is one of the best-maintained fleets in Europe, because of the financial impact of a maintenance delay.

  • Michael__K

    As we allow the LCCs to grow with virtually no consumer protections, the options to buy “additional hand holding” will continue to disappear.

    United/Continental doesn’t even fly this route anymore. If you want a nonstop (like this family did), then Frontier and Spirit are the only options left.

  • MarkKelling

    Frontier is not an option any more since they have fully adopted the same business model as Spirit — and are proud of the fact.

    Continental no longer exists. It ceased to exist when it merged with United. What little is left of that airline continues to be destroyed by United as time goes on.

  • MarkKelling

    You get what you pay for. In this case, you pay for nothing and that is what you get.

  • MarkKelling

    I was delayed last winter on a United flight for nearly 8 hours (before they finally cancelled the flight). They rolled out a cart with drinks and sandwiches after about 4 – 5 hours. All you had to do was show your boarding pass and you could have whatever you wanted from the cart.

    It is true that most airlines aren’t that generous.

  • Michael__K

    That was exactly my point — the ‘hand holding’ options have disappeared entirely (on this route) or are in the process of disappearing (on other routes).

  • Michael__K

    The advertised purpose of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 was to eliminate the CAB and to get the government out of the business of setting fares and schedules. And on that general purpose there was widespread agreement.

    No one AFAIK was openly advocating to abolish consumer protections like Rule 240. The airlines preserved their Rule 240s for many years and the DOT, with Congressional oversight, was empowered to propose and issue new rules as needed to protect consumers.

    Of course spending by lobbyists, has exploded since then and virtually none of the lobbyists represent consumers’ interests. And the aviation industry is no exception.

  • Mel65

    The only thing I think they have a “case” for is an extension of the travel vouchers. Vouchers that must be used within 60 days are basically useless. Few recreational travelers are going to be flying again within 60 days, and of course a business traveler has no need for the vouchers. Otherwise, while I sympathize, they got what they paid for: cheap tickets, a cheap airline and equivalent customer (non) service. :(

  • Randy Culpepper

    I’m confused as to how this cost them $210. Did they not stay at the hotel? Hotel rooms are per night, not per day.

  • Jeff W.

    I, too, was delayed on a United flight in San Fran. After the first hour of the delay, someone rolled out a cart with bottled water and snacks (chips and sweets.) No sandwiches, but the attempt was certainly appreciated.

    Been delayed at O’Hare and LaGuardia multiple times after that. Nothing. So I guess it depends on the airline AND the airport.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    A speech I just heard identified Spirit, along with Comcast, as the two worst customer service companies in the country. I don’t know if it was based on any actual facts, but a one stop on Delta might be better than a nonstop on Spirit.

  • taxed2themax

    I think the answer is don’t fly Spirit.. but I think there’s more on the end of that.. Don’t fly Spirit unless your travel plans and personal risk-profile aren’t inline with Spirit’s business model.

    I don’t think Spirit is good OR bad.. I think they are what they are.. and as such, fit quite well some whose travel and risk tolerance aligns with what Spirit is.. and there are others whose travel and risk tolerance just aren’t a good fit.. and it’s this second group who should not book Spirit.

    It doesn’t make the second group bad.. nor does it make Spirit bad.. it just says that the two groups probably aren’t the ideal consumer-to-business match.

  • taxed2themax

    “it does not care about its delays and subsequent treatment of delayed passengers.”

    I don’t believe that it’s a matter of Spirit not caring about delays at all.. only because delays cost the airline money. In many cases they’ll have to pay additional time for ground crews to remain on-duty to handle a late inbound aircraft.. or if the late aircraft arrives when their manpower is all allocated, they’ll have to add some via overtime or something similar.. Depending on the severity, you can have added crew time as well.. there’s a whole list of potential added costs when a delay occurs.

    I think in the end, for Spirit as well as all airlines, they all do care about delays because delays only add costs.

    Do they care about the impact on the passenger? I’ll have to go against the tide here.. I do think they care.. but I think there’s a difference between caring for someone and paying for things that are outside of the agreement. Again, I don’t think the internal conversation at Spirit is one of “we don’t care, so whatever”.. but is more along the lines of “we have disclosed what we do and what we don’t do for passengers fairly well”..

  • Sandra

    I thought the same thing; they are in an airport where amenities are available, of course for an inflated price. They aren’t abandoned in the true sense of the word. This type of service is so common on the “Cheapie Airlines” that those who book these flights need to be aware that they are trading even minimal comfort (like a glass of water) for savings on the fares. Good service, of course not. Lesson learned, I hope so for all of us.

  • Sandra

    Now, that’s a hoot!!

  • michael anthony

    It’s a fact of aviation, that there will be delays, some avoidable, some not. Carriers have to expect them and build the loss of whatever revenue into its budgets. An if they won’t do it, then congress should step in an regulate. A few hours us one thing, but 6 hours, or more, cuts into many people’s physical needs. Babies feeding, diabetics meal times, those on medicstions, etc. And because the delay in this case is not the pax fault, carriers should be required to provide a nominal sustenance, such as water, juice and a small food item that is nutrition minded. Depending on time of day, many airport concessions may be closed leaving little or no options. Will congress regulate? No, because of the lobbyists.

    I won’t fly Spirit, not because of this, but because of what it signals. A carrier trying to skimp on items like this, will do the same in other areas. No wonder Spirit is the subject of concern for safety advocates. That’s why I won’t fly them.

  • PsyGuy

    I voted yes, but I really didn’t want to. Had this been another carrier that isn’t an ultra low cost carrier, it would be different, but Spirit is the airline you use when cost is sole priority for its flyers, and taking with that means accepting that what you’ve bought is really nothing more than getting yourself and a personal item from point A too B and that includes giving up the idea of getting there during your scheduled time.
    Had this been another carrier like a legacy carrier, you probably could have gotten more script out of them, but you’d have paid substantially more for the tickets.
    Spirit also knows that they likely won’t even lose the LW’s as customers, because if everything works out right, their fares provide substantial savings. I hate Spirit but sometimes i just need to get to The City for a weekend on short notice, then Spirit is my go to choice. I can usually get roundtrip for what other carriers even low cost carriers charge for one way.

  • PsyGuy

    This isn’t europe though.

  • PsyGuy

    At least there is a train (albeit after a taxi ride), I wonder if there is any real appreciable savings on that route?

  • PsyGuy

    Wait, why can’t they leave and come back later? I often schedule long layovers in the 6 hour range so that if ontime I can leave the airport and do a little of the road less traveled.

    Isn’t overpriced airport food essentially the same foo most people would buy eating out anyway? There are eating and beverage options that aren’t restricted solely to vending machines. The EU regulations would have gotten them the same airport food.

  • PsyGuy

    Oh come on, there are both water fountains (free) and water vending machines for a $1.

  • PsyGuy

    The LW’s don’t want compassion though, they want compensation, they sound similar but they aren’t.

  • PsyGuy

    I understand where the LW’s are coming from though, they have $X budget and need to make compromises and given the length of the flight and duration of their stay spending more on the hotel than the plane is likely going to be the better experience.

  • PsyGuy

    I’ve seen the same but I usually ask for a voucher at the 4 hour mark, not that it matters my company gives me a per diem, I’m usually just in a bar anyway chatting up other travelers anyway.

  • PsyGuy

    I’d think $200 each in script that lasts a year would be appropriate.

  • PsyGuy

    Many hotels charge you for the first night whether you use it or not, and can’t really be canceled at the last minute. So what happens is your a no show, they charge you for the first night and then either cancel the rest of your reservation or hold it for you on a space available basis.

  • PsyGuy

    You realize that even Spirit pilots don’t like their airline either right? Most of them are just earning flight hours until they can move on to a legacy or international carrier.

  • absherlock

    I do as well. I was just pointing out that skimping on one portion of the travel experience to improve another portion may unexpectedly impact the enjoyment of the “more important” portion. Treating all portions as equally important may end up creating a more enjoyable experience overall.

  • joycexyz

    You get what you pay for. Considering that Spirit is a cheap, bare-bones airline (and is very upfront about it), I think the $50 vouchers were more than generous.

  • joycexyz

    That’s kind of scary.

  • BubbaJoe123

    As a point of contrast, a friend was on a Delta flight from Boston to NYC yesterday. Weather was bad in both places, and delays started stacking up. When they pushed the flight back from noon to 1PM, they brought out snack baskets (chips, bananas, chocolate, etc – the same stuff in the on-board snack basket in Economy Comfort) and bottled water for everyone. Flight was 90 minutes late, but that wasn’t Delta’s fault, and they made an effort to ease the wait for customers. They don’t do this all the time, but there’s at least the potential for customer service.

  • greg watson

    I won’t fly any airline that doesn’t take responsibility for problems created by (their) ‘mechanical difficulties’. Poor weather conditions are one thing. but fleet maintenance is another & although I love saving money on trips, Spirit is not for me. I voted no, but Spirit does say it won’t cover anything. It should be responsible for problems resulting from delays created by mechanical problems with their airline.

  • PsyGuy

    Maybe, but there are a lot of factors and a large matrix of variable values. My observation is that many PAX go with the scenario where “If everything works out, this will be the best combination”, and usually it does work out.

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