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Spirit Airlines fined for improperly bumping passengers

Paul Best

The Department of Transportation fined Spirit Airlines $350,000 Friday for not properly compensating customers who they “bumped” from flights and misclassifying those bumped passengers in reports to the DOT.

Airlines regularly overbook flights to account for no-shows. When too many passengers show up, airlines will offer compensation to volunteers to give up their seats and get on another flight. Occasionally, though, no one volunteers and airlines will bump passengers from the flight, which is legal as long as they compensate them properly.

The DOT fined Spirit because on several occasions between January 2017 and June 2018 they offered bumped passengers travel vouchers before telling them they were entitled to cash or a check, as required by federal law. In addition, they undercompensated some bumped passengers.

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Spirit Airlines also misclassified more than 1,000 passengers in reports to the DOT as “volunteers” when they were actually passengers who got bumped involuntarily, the agency said.

The budget airline told FOX Business it's changed these business practices in the last two years.

“We have made appropriate changes to our processes and compensation offerings long since this period of review from January 2017 to June 2018,” Spirit Airlines told FOX Business in a statement. “Our Guests’ experience means everything to us, and we continue to invest in every aspect of their journey.”

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According to Department of Transportation data, Spirit Airlines did have a very bad track record of bumping passengers involuntarily in 2017 and 2018 but has gotten better since then.

For instance, in the fourth quarter of 2017, Spirit Airlines was by far the worst about overbooking flights, as they had to bump 1.97 passengers per 10,000. That’s more than double the second-worst airline, Frontier Airlines, who had to bump 0.89 passengers per 10,000, and it’s more than quadruple the third-worst, Southwest Airlines, who had to bump 0.40 passengers per 10,000.

But by the first quarter of 2020, Spirit Airlines was in the middle of the pack and only bumped 0.09 passengers per 10,000. That’s much better than the worst-performing airline, Envoy Air, which bumped 0.98 passengers per 10,000.

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