Why did Spirit deny me boarding?

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By Christopher Elliott

Warning: Make sure that you arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare — or Spirit might deny you boarding. But can we help?

Question

My family and I purchased tickets to fly from Philadelphia to Las Vegas on Spirit Airlines. We got to the airport a little under two hours before departure. A representative told us we were required to check-in 24 hours in advance. Nowhere on my confirmation did it say that I needed to check in 24 hours in advance.

Spirit denied us boarding because we were told we got there too late. We discovered that was a lie. The real reason was that the airline overbooked and tried to weed people out. We had to pay for tickets to leave the next day, which significantly shortened our trip and made for a miserable experience. Plus, we had to pay for two hotel rooms and meals.

I would like a full refund from Spirit because they made us miss our flight for no reason and the horrible customer service was traumatizing and made our trip miserable. Can you help? — Michelle Strong, Drexel Hill, Pa.

Answer

I’m sorry Spirit stopped you from boarding your flight to Las Vegas. If you arrived at the airport on time, the airline should have allowed you on the plane.

The airport agent misinformed you. Check-in begins 24 hours before departure and ends an hour prior to departure, according to Spirit. If you don’t check in online, you can use an airport self-serve kiosk or ask an agent for help. Spirit charges a $10 fee to print each boarding pass at the counter.

I’m not sure where you heard about your flight being overbooked. Normally, the airline will ask for volunteers at the gate. If it denied you boarding after you checked in on time without compensating you, that would be illegal.

Under Department of Transportation regulations, Spirit would have to offer you compensation for being involuntarily denied boarding. The amount of compensation depends on the length of your delay. For a delay of over two hours, for example, you would be entitled to 400 percent of your one-way fare, not to exceed $1,350.

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I asked Spirit about your delay. Although it did not have a record of you arriving at the airport two hours before the flight’s 3:14 p.m. departure time, it did show you tried to check-in at its kiosk at 2:32 p.m. A Spirit representative said passengers must have completed the check-in process at least 45 minutes before their flight’s scheduled departure time. Although the 45-minute cutoff is disclosed on Spirit’s site, you say you never received any notification.

Can Spirit deny you boarding and not send a refund?

Spirit should have taken care of you and your family at the airport. After all, you were at the kiosk two minutes past the cut-off time. How about a little compassion? (Related: A long, bumpy ride to denied-boarding compensation.)

You could have appealed to one of the airline’s executives. The Elliott Advocacy research team has compiled a list of Spirit’s customer service managers for you to use.

In response to my inquiry, Spirit said it would refund your $99 rebooking fee for the next available flight. It also offered you a $50 flight voucher as a courtesy. “We’ve shared the customer service the guest experienced with the general manager in Philadelphia for review and additional training purposes, as we’re always looking to improve,” a representative told me.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Rio de Janeiro.

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