The Department of Transportation (DOT) levied a record-breaking $375,000 fine against Spirit Airlines as punishment for a number of consumer rights abuses. The fine includes $215,000 the airline must pay immediately, and another $160,000 pending a follow-up investigation.
Here's the rap sheet, straight from the DOT's mouth:
- "Spirit bumped passengers from oversold flights but did not provide compensation or a written notice of passengers' rights to compensation—as required by DOT rules protecting consumers."
- "Spirit also failed to resolve baggage claims within a reasonable time. In one case, they took 14 months to provide traveler compensation. The airline provided compensation only for baggage on the outbound leg of round-trip flights. And, the airline refused to accept responsibility for missing laptops and other items Spirit had accepted as baggage."
- "Spirit also violated DOT rules requiring airfare ads to state the full price to be paid. The fares advertised omitted fees Spirit tacked onto base fares."
Spirit did not deny any of the DOT's charges.
That said, the airline did speak up on its behalf, saying that it corrected many of the underlying problems that caused the "customer experience challenges," as it were. Dan Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, offered a stronger defense. "We don't cause the delays," he said, intimating that an out-of-date air traffic control system is the fundamental problem with the air travel industry. "We don't want the delays." He also suggested that a passenger bill of rights would make things worse.
Well, put me firmly in the "fine-them" camp, and I'm glad the DOT seems to be ramping up its pursuit and punishment of airlines that violate customer-protections rules. And while I understand why the industry is wary of a passenger bill of rights—there's no doubt the provisions likely to be included will cause headaches for the airlines—I might suggest such a bill is only necessary due to the airlines' pattern of unsympathetic behavior toward their paying customers. Spirit's violations illustrate that behavior perfectly, and my hope is the DOT's response is a clear message to the industry: You're going to get what's coming to you.