Travel Troubleshooter: Spirit Airways agent made a promise that wasn't kept
Question: My husband, 2-year-old son, and I recently flew from Chicago to Phoenix on Spirit Airways. Before we took off, a flight attendant approached our seat to tell us that there was a problem with one of the seats, and that another passenger couldn't use his. We were offered a refund of our son's ticket and a free round-trip voucher if we would hold our son on our lap in order to free a seat for the gentleman whose seat was not usable.
We agreed, and the flight attendant and gate agent (who had boarded the plane to help resolve the situation) told us we should talk with the gate agents when we landed in Phoenix to claim our refund and voucher.
When we landed, we approached the gate agents. It was 1 a.m. and there weren't many people working. A Spirit employee advised us to call the customer service number to figure out everything about our tickets.
The next evening, I called the customer service line and was informed by both a representative and a supervisor that there was no record of the transaction. In fact, the supervisor chastised me for giving up our son's seat and told me that because he was over 24 months old it was against FAA regulations to hold him on our lap.
We tried speaking with Spirit on our return flight, but it was impossible to find someone who could help us. We've also tried sending e-mails to the airline. Can you persuade Spirit to keep its word?
- Sarah Dragswiek, Minneapolis
Answer: Your story is troubling on many levels. First, there's the problem of asking you to keep your 2-year-old on your lap. The safest place for your son is in his own seat, and preferably strapped into a car seat. Most airlines require children older than 2 to have their own seats.
Talk is cheap. In the heat of the moment as the plane is boarding, promises are made and other employees down the line don't always get the memo.
How could you have avoided this? You said a gate agent boarded the flight to fix the problem. That agent could have given you a flight voucher and all the paperwork necessary for a refund.
Once you stepped off that plane, Spirit handled your case about the way I'd expect. No one except the gate agent knew of the promise, so Spirit turned you down. How frustrating.
If someone ever asks you to give up your son's seat again, let that employee know he's over 2 and is required to have his own seat. And remember, you can always say no when you're asked to move. They're your seats - you paid for them.
I contacted Spirit on your behalf. It refunded your seat and sent you the voucher it had promised.
Christopher Elliott is the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)" (National Geographic). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine.