Spirit Airlines Faces (Fair?) Lawsuit Over Shortcut Boarding

Spirit Airlines Faces (Fair?) Lawsuit Over Shortcut Boarding

21

Airlines face a lot of frivolous lawsuits, but to me this one seems warranted.

Spirit Airlines’ class action lawsuit over boarding process

Paddle Your Own Kanoo reports how a class action lawsuit has been filed against Spirit Airlines over a deceptive business practice related to its pandemic boarding process. The lawsuit has been filed in South Florida District Court by a couple from Ohio, seeking reimbursement and damages for them and the thousands of others who may have been impacted by this.

Spirit Airlines is known for its ancillary fees — the carrier generally has low fares, and then charges for just about everything. One of Spirit Airlines’ service options is “Shortcut Boarding,” which costs $5.99, and is advertised as offering “Zone 2 priority boarding and early access to the overhead bins.”

The airline kept selling this during the pandemic, but there was just one small problem — Spirit wasn’t using its standard boarding process, but rather was using a back-to-front boarding process, as many other airlines did.

As the lawsuit states:

“Spirit, through misrepresentations, intentional omissions, or other business practices in connection with the advertising, marketing, promotion, and sale of Shortcut Boarding reaped benefits, which resulted in Spirit’s wrongful receipt of payments for a service that was not provided.”

The lawsuit also (incorrectly, as far as I know) states the following:

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Spirit knew that due to state and federal health regulations, it would be unable to allow the early boarding privileges it advertised.”

That’s giving Spirit Airlines too much credit. There were no “state and federal health regulations” in the United States that I know of requiring airlines to board planes back-to-front, but rather this is a policy decision that airlines made based on the suggestion that this was a safer way to board planes (though some studies have suggested this increases coronavirus risk).

My take on this lawsuit

Let me note upfront that I’m no lawyer, but rather am just sharing my take as an observer of the industry, and someone who sometimes tries to apply common sense. This lawsuit seems to me like it has merit.

It’s one thing if one were to sue for something that was bundled, like if you book a business class ticket and are told to board last due to a modified boarding process. But in this case, Spirit Airlines was explicitly selling priority boarding as an add-on, when the carrier knew that this wouldn’t be honored in the way that was promised.

That seems to me like a deceptive business practice, plain and simple. It’s no different than if the airline let customers pre-purchase food and drinks for a flight, only to find out that the airline isn’t currently offering any inflight service due to coronavirus.

Bottom line

Spirit Airlines is facing a class action lawsuit over its practice of selling priority boarding with no intent to actually offer it. While customers could pay $5.99 to get early access to overhead bins, in reality the airline instead boarded front-to-back on some flights during the pandemic. As a non-lawyer I sure feel like there’s some merit to this case…

What do you make of this lawsuit against Spirit Airlines?

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  1. arif

    I will never fly Spirit airlines again , I was unable to complete online check in because some documents were needed , so I had to do my check in over the counter , that's where they charged me double for my carry-on. Even I gave them the explaination that I couldn't add my carry-on at online.

  2. Lori C

    Mike, if you find someone to take on the lawsuit, we're in. Spirit has a number of business practices that seem criminal, and we've been victims of several.

  3. Mike

    Trying to get my boys from KC to Tampa and the flights have been canceled three times. I asked for a refund. They only want to give 85.18 of the 125.18 that I paid. They say they cannot refund the $40 I paid to choose seats for them. I am sure that I am not the only one going through this. I need a hungry lawyer who wants to do a class action lawsuit against them for not refunding the full amount due to their cancellations

  4. Servo

    This seems more like a small claims court case. How many possible flights could one have taken on Spirit mid-pandemic to make this something worth truly challenging in a class action?

  5. John Doe

    Spirit did not use back to front. Sorry this is in accurate!

  6. James

    Wow, that joke about Spirit Airlines sucking your spirit… Did you come up with that all by yourself or did your mommy help you?

  7. Joel

    What about in my case where over the past year Spirit offers shortcut security for a fee and there is never a dedicated line at the airport to take advantage of this service yet they still collect this fee? In addition they add this to the silver and gold status members, but in reality it means absolutely nothing.

  8. Eric

    You know why they named it Spirit Airlines?

    Because any time you fly with them it sucks the spirit right out of you.

  9. M. Garner

    I purchase the Spirit Big front seats. They offer me Zone 2 boarding for $5.99 but the seat has always come with zone 2 boarding without paying $5.99

  10. Americanssuewaytoomuch

    Why will this be a lawsuit though? Wouldn’t Spirit just refund the money as they were not able to provide that service?

  11. DenB

    Why didn't they go for the cheaper option. I think Spirit's "Get On Board" option is only $4.99 per passenger, each way. Allows ticketed passengers to actually board the plane and , at no extra charge, occupy a seat for the entire duration of the flight! or so I've been told

  12. Stephanie Moran

    This is airline took the little money I had to come back to Puerto Rico I paid 777.00 for our tickets to come to PR on Jun 4 2021 the day we were supposed to leave and we were there on time they told us the doors close at 10:30 i didn't understand but my suitcase was already sent I thank God that my brother got to leave he was able to get it for...

    This is airline took the little money I had to come back to Puerto Rico I paid 777.00 for our tickets to come to PR on Jun 4 2021 the day we were supposed to leave and we were there on time they told us the doors close at 10:30 i didn't understand but my suitcase was already sent I thank God that my brother got to leave he was able to get it for me. We told that we had to rebook our flight if we wanted to leave I was so furious because this trip was an emergency and I ended up paying a thousand and some change to be able to make it out here i felt like the airline took advantage of people I had no option but to pay more. I tried to contact them but still didn't get no response from them I just want either a refund of my money or 3 free fare due to the inconvenience i lost of $777.57 and pay more and I ain't able to get a hold of a real live person all I get is a Whatsapp number to resolve my issue and no one can help me but it's on my bank statement I am stranded in the island with my kids because of this airline i don't have my money to get back and I have to try and work out here never again will I use this airline and they still haven't gotten back to me about this issue not even after a complaint ughh its ok ill figure it out as always I trust this will be for the best.

  13. No Spirit

    @Jim- I found it weird that Paddle Your Own Kanoo didn't hyperlink to the lawsuit as well. I wonder how many attempts the couple made to try to get their money back before deciding to sue.

    1. Jim Baround

      I will say thank you to the blogger for at least reading the comments and adding a link, however sir are you able to actually share the lawsuit as opposed to a link to a paywall site? Did you read the lawsuit itself? I'm not saying Spirit is in the right (they're usually not), but it seems odd that this would turn into a lawsuit as opposed to getting resolved with a $12 refund as another commenter said. The lawsuit itself should have more details.

  14. Greg

    Sounds more like an oversight while short staffed in management or IT than intent of deception.

    We’re they not refunded the fee? There are no $$ damages beyond the fee.

  15. Jim Baround

    Please post a link to the actual lawsuit, not just quotes, so we can get the full story.

  16. JJH

    Lawyer here — this is not legal advice, just general commentary. But I don’t think this lawsuit will succeed.

    They have a bunch of problems. They’re relying on a Florida state law regulating deceptive business practices but federal law preempts state laws regulating air transportation. They would need to sue under a federal regulation, not a state law.

    There is an additional problem that this seems to be alleging a fraud theory. Assuming you can...

    Lawyer here — this is not legal advice, just general commentary. But I don’t think this lawsuit will succeed.

    They have a bunch of problems. They’re relying on a Florida state law regulating deceptive business practices but federal law preempts state laws regulating air transportation. They would need to sue under a federal regulation, not a state law.

    There is an additional problem that this seems to be alleging a fraud theory. Assuming you can find a federal regulation that was violated (which they don’t have now), courts usually don’t let you bring a class action for fraud claims because fraud really is about what consumers knew or didn’t know — that varies from person to person so the court can’t just say that everyone was fooled or no one was. It might be some consumers were misled and others weren’t. So it’s not a class claim; everyone who says they were fooled had to sue individually. Without a class action these two people could still get their $6 back but obviously they don’t actually want that. The point is to bring a class action so they can get $6 for *everyone* who paid for this service during the pandemic. Without that the case definitely isn’t financially viable for a lawyer to pursue ($12 isn’t going to cut it).

    I also sort of doubt that many Spirit customers paid for this service so even if they did have a class action it’s really unclear that it would be worth enough to cover the costs of bringing this suit.

    1. DJ

      Isn't the "South Florida District Court" a federal court? Since we don't have a link to the actual filing, I wouldn't necessarily take Paddle Your Own Kanoo's word for it that the basis for the filing is a Florida state law. That doesn't seem to make sense on the face of it. Non-lawyer here. Your comments about fraud not being a basis for a class action are interesting.

    2. Jim Baround

      Yeah it is filed in federal court in the southern district of Florida in Fort Lauderdale. So presumably state law is irrrelevant here.

    3. Frank B

      They are filing in Federal Court based on diversity jurisdiction. That means the suit is between a plaintiff and defendants from different states and the damages were over 75,000.

    4. JJH

      As Frank B. correctly notes, you can bring state law claims in federal court (in many circumstances).

Featured Comments Load all 21 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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JJH

Lawyer here — this is not legal advice, just general commentary. But I don’t think this lawsuit will succeed. They have a bunch of problems. They’re relying on a Florida state law regulating deceptive business practices but federal law preempts state laws regulating air transportation. They would need to sue under a federal regulation, not a state law. There is an additional problem that this seems to be alleging a fraud theory. Assuming you can find a federal regulation that was violated (which they don’t have now), courts usually don’t let you bring a class action for fraud claims because fraud really is about what consumers knew or didn’t know — that varies from person to person so the court can’t just say that everyone was fooled or no one was. It might be some consumers were misled and others weren’t. So it’s not a class claim; everyone who says they were fooled had to sue individually. Without a class action these two people could still get their $6 back but obviously they don’t actually want that. The point is to bring a class action so they can get $6 for *everyone* who paid for this service during the pandemic. Without that the case definitely isn’t financially viable for a lawyer to pursue ($12 isn’t going to cut it). I also sort of doubt that many Spirit customers paid for this service so even if they did have a class action it’s really unclear that it would be worth enough to cover the costs of bringing this suit.

arif

I will never fly Spirit airlines again , I was unable to complete online check in because some documents were needed , so I had to do my check in over the counter , that's where they charged me double for my carry-on. Even I gave them the explaination that I couldn't add my carry-on at online.

Lori C

Mike, if you find someone to take on the lawsuit, we're in. Spirit has a number of business practices that seem criminal, and we've been victims of several.

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