The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Friday fined Spirit Airlines $350,000 for violating federal rules protecting passengers who are denied boarding (“bumped”) on oversold flights, and for not providing accurate reporting of passengers denied boarding. The airline was also ordered to cease and desist from future similar violations.
During a review of consumer complaints filed with DOT, the Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection found that Spirit required passengers who were involuntarily denied boarding to sign waivers or documents suggesting that those passengers were “volunteers.”
In addition, a review of consumer complaints received by DOT between January 2017 and June 2018 found that on several occasions, Spirit offered travel vouchers to passengers who were owed denied boarding compensation after being involuntarily bumped from oversold flights without first informing them that they had the option of receiving cash or a check, as required by federal law. Spirit also provided vouchers that undercompensated certain passengers.
Furthermore, for six consecutive quarters starting with the first quarter of 2017, Spirit failed to file accurate reports of passengers denied boarding with the Department by misclassifying and misreporting more than 1,000 passengers as “volunteers” when they were actually passengers denied boarding involuntarily. As a result, several of the Department’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Reports (ATCRs) were published containing information that incorrectly lowered Spirit’s rate of involuntary denied boarding due to Spirit’s failure to file correct data. Furthermore, its subsequent refiling of corrected information required the Department to revise and edit several ATCRs. Moreover, Spirit’s inaccurate reporting has deprived the traveling public of useful data for determining which carrier has the highest rate of denied boardings.
DOT’s airline consumer website makes it easy for travelers to understand their rights. The page on bumping and oversales can be found here. Consumers may file an airline complaint with the Department here.
The consent order is available at www.regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2020-0001.