A Live And Let’s Fly reader reached out concerning an incident with Spirit Airlines. It sounded somewhat far-fetched, but I spoke to him about it and he quickly convinced me this incident really did happen at a Spirit Airlines ticket counter at Pittsburgh International Airport. He then sent me the written report below. All I can say is wow…what a clueless agent and supervisor…
Spirit Airlines Agent At Ticket Counter In Pittsburgh Refuses To Ticket Reservation, Then Agent Calls Cops On Passenger Who Complained
I recently went to the airport to purchase tickets at the Spirit Airlines counter. It was getting late but I checked the schedule and it was prior to the last departure when I approached the counter. Before I could reach the desk, an agent said “Counter’s closed.” I clarified that the last flight hadn’t left yet and pulled it up on my phone. “It pushed early, you can come back and buy tickets tomorrow morning starting at 3:30 AM.” As she said this, a radio voice came on saying that they were looking for the last luggage of the night and that the hold door hadn’t closed. I stared at her a moment, didn’t raise my voice, but was calm and asked to buy a ticket. She repeated her stance and I walked away. She remained at the counter with a passenger awaiting his wallet which was left onboard one of the planes, she wasn’t going home yet.
As I walked away about 30 feet from the counter, I thought about sharing this experience with you and took a photo of the counter which would also create a timestamp on the photo. I turned back to walk away when I was called from behind. I couldn’t tell if she was calling me, maybe she changed her mind. I came closer, she continued to call me back. Great, I can book my trip.
“You need to delete that photo, you don’t have my permission.” She said.
“Ma’am, we are in a public building. You have no expectation of privacy in public.” I replied.
“I have my badge on with sensitive information, and you need my permission. If you don’t delete it, I’m calling 911.”
I remained calm, orderly, and polite but firm.
“I’m not deleting it-” she was already on the phone with the police.
Halfway through her call, her manager, McKenzie, appeared. He asked what was going on, the desk agent said I took a photo of her without her permission.
“Sir, you can’t do that.”
“I can, we are in public, I can take a photo of anything my eye can see.”
“This is a federal building and if you don’t delete it, we will call the police. Delete it or we will call them.” He said. She clarified she was already on with the police.
“Federal buildings are by definition, public, do what you have to do.”
He asked for the phone from the agent, spoke with the police, and they ended the call. The four of us (the guy just waiting for his wallet), the agent, McKenzie, and myself stood there for ten minutes in near silence while we waited for the police to arrive. I could have deleted it, I could have just gone home but at that point, it was about more than the initial attitude.
Four police officers walked through the door, approached us – again, everything was really calm, relaxed and peaceful. One started speaking with her, McKenzie busied himself in the back office. Two others stood with me. One asked, “Do you have any identification?”
“I do, but I don’t think I’m required to give it to you,” I replied.
“We have to fill out a report, so we need your name.” I gave them my first name. Still wanting the ID, he said, “If you haven’t done anything wrong, why not give me your ID?”
“If I haven’t done anything wrong, why would you need it?” I said. At this point the second officer politely asked as well stating it makes their job easier, I politely declined and that was that.
They made small chit chat for awhile, and I gave general answers. I was being nice but I had no duty to talk to them at all.
The officer interviewing the desk agent came over to me. “We got a call of a disorderly passenger.”
“Do I look like a disorderly passenger?” I asked.
“She said you took a picture of her badge with security information on it.” I didn’t and told him as much, and then clarified, “We are in public, right?” All the officers agreed. “Then I can take any photos I like, right?” They agreed. He asked why I was taking a photo of her badge, and I stated I was 30 feet away and then pointed to the 20 or so cameras overhead. “You can check the tape if you want.”
I then said, “I’ll tell you what. I’m not deleting the picture, but I will show you the photo. If you can see her badge in the photo, I’ll not only delete it but I’ll apologize for it.” I showed him the photo. It was clear that I was telling the truth. I then even zoomed in where her badge is blocked by a computer monitor.
“Have a good night sir, you’re free to go.”
I had no intention of causing a problem. The truth is that the agent lied about the flight being gone and didn’t want to take the ten minutes to issue my ticket, even though she would be there as long with the guy waiting for his wallet. The manager, quick to defend his employee instead of ask me what was happening, assumed she was correct that you can’t take photos of their employees. This may be true on their airplanes, but that’s no longer a public building. He was misinformed.
Further, he could have just resolved the situation by ticketing me himself, but he chose not to. In fact, he never asked to even see the photo. What started out as the agent not wanting to be photographed, turned into me trying to crack their security without even seeing if I had taken a photo at all. They never saw it. And as a further aside, if the information on their badges are privileged, why do they have them out and visible to the public? If I had come in 20 minutes earlier, and noted the information on the badge while I was being ticketed, would the sensitive information be visible? If so, what if someone with bad intentions wanted to use that information? Wouldn’t that be a terrible policy for any airline to have?
This is a case of someone wanting to go home early and management that didn’t ask or care. They were very quick to call the police and as I had done nothing wrong, I was happy to quietly wait for the police to come and educate them on what is and is not permitted in public. McKenzie had asked the agent to make an “incident report” so I’m glad I had not given my name in the process. That said, they all could have done better but I was grateful that the police that showed up respected my rights and knew the law. Hopefully, now the staff does too.
A couple thoughts. The published Spirit Airlines ticket counter hours in PIT are from 3:30 am to 5:00 pm. However, this incident took place after 9:00 pm. Does that mean the passenger was at fault? No, it simply means that Spirit Airlines has not updated its ticket counter hours on its website (and why it says all published times are subject to change). Second, if the agent was just standing there and would be for a while, why not just ticket the reservation? I’m sympathetic to the passenger here, even if the police were not needlessly called.