Hurricane Dorian brought many flight cancellations, Florida-based carriers like Spirit were particularly hard hit. But when flights started to cancel, Spirit pushed credit not refunds for passengers.
Hurricane Dorian Uniquely Difficult Storm
While all hurricanes can move around unpredictably, Dorian was particularly difficult to predict. The storm changed direction, moved slowly nearly stalling over the Bahamas and wreaking havoc over the islands. Landfall was expected anywhere from Fort Lauderdale to Cape Canaveral all the way up to Jacksonville.
The timeline also pushed as the storm slowed but intensified over the Bahamian archipelago. Landfall wasn’t just a concern of where but also when. In the above image, Dorian appears on pace to strike Cape Canaveral with a wind zone that encompassed the entire state of Florida. That schedule shifted to a landfall potentially in Georgia and several days later.
There’s no doubt that any airline with substantial operations in Florida, especially South Florida, would struggle in that environment. JetBlue and Southwest have significant operations at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood, Spirit has the most departures, and American operates more than 90% of all flights from Miami.
I’m a Big Fan of Spirit
While it may seem counterintuitive for a traditional elite loyalty traveller to hold anything but disdain for Spirit and what the carrier represents – I love them. Why? Because their flights are cheap, direct, and they have an affordable big front seat that I can upgrade to for $40-50 one-way and Southwest adds cost to their tickets to pay for bags that I don’t check.
The carrier has also been dedicated to making improvements, like adding wifi to their fleet and running the “fittest” (youngest) fleet in the country.
Flight Cancellations Allow Refunds Not Just Airline Credit
I had a flight booked from Fort Lauderdale to Pittsburgh just outside of the approved date range. In a facebook travel group, another traveller was lamenting that when they called Spirit, they were told they could only have airline credit for their flight despite the waiver and cancellation of the flight.
While I had recourse by using my credit card if needed, I didn’t really want to go the route of filing a claim if I could avoid it. As a precaution, FLL closed the airport prior to my flight and didn’t state when it would reopen. I called in to get my refund.
The agent, who was very polite, answered after a shorter hold than I would have imagined given the number of rebookings the carrier had to handle during the event. At first, they offered me credit with the airline, as they pitched on their website. I declined and the agent put me on hold while they checked with their manager to see if a refund was a possibility.
But the agent and his manager didn’t really have a choice. I’m not concerned with Spirit trying to offer passengers accommodation on the airline first. However, the staff wasn’t informed or empowered enough to just push the refund button and according to at least one other traveller, they didn’t allow it even despite asking.
“If, for any reason, your flight is canceled, substantially delayed, or rescheduled, you have the right to reroute at no extra cost or to receive a full refund, even on a nonrefundable ticket.” –Airfare Watchdog
The Department of Transportation offers a ton of practical recommendations for how to continue onto your destination. Oddly, the DoT doesn’t offer much direct guidance on an outright cancellation when you don’t want to try to find a flight on another carrier.
Spirit refunded my entire party’s tickets, the return portion of a roundtrip.
I understand why the carrier would want to rebook passengers or keep the cash inside the airline’s coffers, but that doesn’t mean they can. When less informed passengers are only presented one option and don’t know that they can insist on a refund,
What do you think? Was this a case of an airline simply trying to protect themselves or was it a case of bad behavior? Do airlines have a duty to explain options to affected customers?