Spirit canceled my flight — and then wouldn’t answer my call

When Gaye Markham woke up the morning of her Spirit Airlines flight, she learned her flight had been canceled. But she needed to be in Houston that day, not two days later when Spirit offered her another seat. They didn’t answer her call, and an email promised a response in about a week — so she came to us.

Question: I booked and paid for a roundtrip flight from Oakland, Calif., to Houston with Spirit Airlines. The morning of the flight I woke up to an email saying the flight was canceled, but no reason was given. When I followed the instructions to manage travel options, no other flights were available with the airline for two days.

I called the toll-free number provided several times, but only reached a recorded message that said all circuits were busy and my call could not be answered. I emailed customer service, but only received a message that they would get back to me in a week.

I would not trust this airline enough to ever use them for a flight again. I might get someplace and then be stranded in that location. I would like to get a refund on the $511 I paid, as services were not rendered. — Gaye Markham, Oakley, Calif.

Answer: Having an airline cancel a flight you’re looking forward to is extremely frustrating. And not offering an alternate flight for two days only adds to your stress. If there is a silver lining, I think it would be that you were still at home when you received this news, rather than at the airport.

Once you realized Spirit couldn’t accommodate you until two days after your original flight, you tried calling the 800 number provided by Spirit, but you were never able to speak with a human. Your next step was sending a message to Spirit via their online form. In its email response, Spirit directed you back to its help site and notified you that its responses to customer service inquiries were “within a week response time.”

In Spirit Airlines’ contract of carriage it lists a customer service plan that includes the following promises:

  • Notify customers of known delays, cancellations and diversions.
  • Provide prompt reservation refunds.
  • Notifying customers in a timely manner of changes in their travel itineraries.
  • Ensure responsiveness to customer complaints.
  • (acknowledgement in 30 days, detailed in 60 days)

  • Identify the services to mitigate customer inconveniences resulting from cancellations and misconnects.

I believe Spirit followed through on two of these: it notified you of the cancellation, and it did so in a timely manner. But it didn’t provide a prompt refund (within seven days as promised in the customer service plan). And although it provided you with both an online solution to rebook your flight and an 800 number to call, neither of those actually got you on a flight on the day you needed to travel. The online option only provided a flight two days later, and you weren’t able to reach a human on the phone.

Technically, they also followed through on their “responsiveness” — at least half of this promise. They did acknowledge your complaint within 30 days, but I question the implication that “within 60 days” is sufficiently “responsive” when it comes to timely resolution of customer issues.

Like most airlines, Spirit releases itself from any responsibility for maintaining its published schedules in this same contract of carriage, which was updated on July 1 of this year:

Times shown in a timetable or elsewhere are not guaranteed and form no part of the terms of transportation. Spirit may, without notice, substitute alternate carriers or aircraft, and may alter or omit stopping places shown on the reservation. 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.

On the other hand, it does make a promise to rebook customers affected by canceled flights on the next available Spirit flight with available seats, without additional charge, if the flights are booked within seven days of the original departure date. It also notes that it will not reimburse customers for alternate flights on a different airline.

But you needed to be in Houston on the original dates and couldn’t rebook your flights for different dates. You also weren’t asking to be reimbursed for flights on a different airline — you were asking Spirit to reimburse you for the flights you were prevented from using because of Spirit’s cancellation.

When you didn’t hear back from Spirit by phone or email addressing the issue of your canceled flight, you could have used our company contacts for Spirit Airlines to escalate your complaint. Instead, you contacted us, and we reached out to our contacts at Spirit on your behalf.

Shortly thereafter, you received an email response from Spirit noting that the cancellation was due to crew availability, and apologizing for the inconvenience. It promised to issue an immediate full refund of $511, and also offered a $50 voucher for future travel.

When we see an offer of a voucher with no explanation and no admission of wrongdoing, I think of a voucher as the “sorry, not sorry” of the business world. Many times, the company is simply trying to force you to patronize the business again. In this case, however, Spirit did apologize, explained the cancellation, and issued a full refund in addition to the voucher. I’m not a fan of the carnival-barker style of their website, or their pricing structure full of ancillary fees, but I do think they did the right thing in this case. I wish they had done it quickly and without the intervention of a consumer advocate, but that’s why we’re here.

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