Not So Spirited: Spirit Airlines Faces Class Action Lawsuit

Do you know what you are paying for when you book a flight through Spirit Airlines?

You may be paying for a “Passenger Usage Fee”.  A new class-action lawsuit filed in Florida alleges that this fee is not a government-required fee, as Spirit states, but rather a profit-driving ancillary fee.

The Lawsuit

Spirit AirlinesThe lawsuit, filed by Podhurst Orseck, states in a release that Spirit Airlines “has intentionally and systematically targeted consumers with deceptive advertising and pricing practices for years.”

A representative for the lawsuit and partner of the firm filing suit, Kathy Ezell, told the Huffington Post that the fee was “illusory”. She states, “It’s really a tack-on to the fare, it’s to increase their profits and, under the DOT regulations, it should be disclosed so that the customers know what they’re paying for the fare. Instead they have chosen to embed it with other fees that are either require or sanctioned by the government—and they give it an innocuous name—so that it sounds like one of the other fees.”

The fee ranges in price from $9 to $17 per flight and is labeled as “optional” on Spirit Airlines’ website under “Booking related fees”. Even though it is “optional”, there is no way for customers to opt out of paying the fee. It appears on the website as an unavoidable part of the base fare.

Ezell states, “Their [Spirit’s] excuse for charging the fee is to provide a website and phone service for passengers to purchase tickets and it’s ludicrous. “ Ezell says that passengers are not getting any good or services for paying this fee.

As many as 5 million passengers may be eligible to join in the class action lawsuit, according to the filing firm. Podhurst Orseck bases this number off DOT statistics and estimates of passengers who may have paid the fee.  The firm believes that this fee has brought in as much as $40 million in profits for the airline.

The DOT previously cited Spirit Airline for the fee. In September of 2009, Spirit faced a fine of $375,000 for the fee. Ezell states that this $375,000 is nothing compared to the profits the fee raked in, so Spirit just continues the practice.

Spirit Responds

Government regulators have long tried to clarify what is included in an airline ticket. Currently, airlines everywhere are raking in billions of dollars in ancillary fees for services like seat selection and checked baggage.

Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza has long defended his company’s practices.

Baldanza states in a blog post written on for The Huffington Post, “The DOT has good intentions for the public, but on these issues they simply misfired. Many who oppose our view have no real concern to keep fares low for ordinary consumers, but are looking out for large corporate interests.”

Baldanza feels his airlines “optional pricing structure” allows customers to save money by only paying for what they want. He states that many of Spirit’s customers could not afford to fly on another airline, and Spirit’s “optional” pricing structure allows them to fly on the airline.

Spirit is also facing another lawsuit regarding their fees. In March, the airline was hit with a suit alleging that their $2 “unintended consequences”, named because it was blamed on the new DOT regulations, was illegal under Illinois consumer protection laws.

The latest class action lawsuit was filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, near Spirit’s headquarters in Miramar, Florida, right outside Miami.

South Carolina Business Litigation Lawyer

If you are involved in a complex legal dispute with a business, contact a South Carolina business litigation lawyer at the Strom Law Firm. The Strom Law Firm represents businesses and individuals involved in complex civil litigation. Call us today for a free consultation. 803.252.4800.

About Pete Strom

Defending criminal charges including drug crimes, DUI, CDV, mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, computer crimes, money laundering, and juvenile crimes, Pete also handles Federal and State investigations. Representing individuals in Civil Matters including Class Actions, Personal Injury, Qui Tam Actions, Defective Products, Nursing Home Neglect, and Professional Licensing Defense cases. Joseph Preston “Pete” Strom, Jr., the managing partner at Strom Law Firm, L.L.C., has been fighting for justice since 1984.

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