The stories are far too voluminous to recount in full, but the meltdown of Spirit Airlines last week demonstrates why we need more rights for passengers who find their flights delayed or cancelled, particularly when the airline is to blame.
More Passenger Rights Needed After Spirit Airlines Meltdown
Take Nick Havener. He’s 25 years old and lives in Southern California. He took advantage of a cheap round-trip on Spirit Airlines to fly to Phoenix to visit a friend. But when he showed up for his return flight, back to Santa Ana (SNA) on August 2nd, he found confusion at the gate.
His plane was there. But there was no crew…and gate agents had no answer other than telling passengers to be patient. The departure time came and went. For the next 2.5 hours, at regular 15-minute intervals, passengers were simply told to be patient.
All of a sudden, all passengers received an email from Spirit Airlines that their flight was cancelled. Havener was rebooked the following day. He had no money for a hotel, but found a friend with an extra cot.
As for any assistance from Spirit Airlines, he received only a $7 meal voucher that would not even cover a meal at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
The next day, his flight cancelled again.
And the next day.
Spirit provided no further compensation, not even meal vouchers. Havener resorted to eating $2 pizza at Costco.
Three days later, he finally got home. He had called American, which also serves the route, but their price was several times more expensive than Spirit.
Now your gut reaction might be to tell Havener “you get what you pay for.” Indeed, Spirit’s lack of interline partners and point-to-point scheduling make delays and cancellations far more irksome than with a legacy carrier.
But Spirit Airlines, and every other carrier in the USA, should be required to meet a bare minimum standard of service if it wishes to serve in the U.S. market. That should include actual meals and lodging when delays happen like the meltdown Spirit experienced.
I realize the business model doesn’t support it, but customers should not be afraid they will be hungry and homeless if they book a Spirit Airlines ticket. That should not be part of the risk calculation when booking with Spirit.
These delays and cancellations may have started due to bad weather, but they really happened because Spirit Airlines was stretched to the max and could not handle any complications. It simply did not have the staffing or aircraft to deal with a ripple in the schedule, creating a ripple effect that stranded tens of thousands. That’s not an act of God…that’s Spirit’s own ineptitude; a gamble it chose to make.
I think we’d all agree airlines should not be able to opt out of safety standards, even if consumers agree to indemnify the airline in exchange for substantial cost savings. Similarly, airlines should not be permitted to trade away basic standards of care because that incentivizes an airline to act recklessly with its staffing and scheduling.
Spirit sought to save money by the way it runs its business – that’s fine. But when it all collapses, consumers should not be left holding the bag when they do no receive the product promised.
I’m not advocating for draconian new rights or even cash compensation. Rather, I’m simply saying that when an airline cancels or delays a flight, particularly for reasons within its control, consumers should not have to go hungry and should have a place to lay their head.
I focus on Spirit Airlines because the meltdown last week was so pervasive and the compensation so stingy, but similar analysis applies to any airline doing business in the USA. It’s very simple: people should have a reasonable expectation that an airline will operate on time and that a storm system will not cripple an airline for several days. Sometimes, delays and cancellations occur, but when they do consumers should not be left to totally fend for themselves or insulted with such meager compensation they cannot even buy a drink with their hamburger.