No American airline thinks of its customers in quite the same way Spirit Airlines does. And the feeling is mutual, as far as many of its passengers are concerned.
If you have any doubts about this, look no further than this week's tasteless Anthony Weiner promotion. Seriously, folks. You can't make this stuff up.
Or, for a more G-Rated discussion, consider what happened to Catherine Migliano when she tried to end her $9 Fare Club membership recently. The carrier's corporate intransigence may have opened the entire airline industry to millions of dollars in damage claims.
Spirit's "club" offers access to lower fares and discounts, but it is also -- and this is clearly disclosed on the airline's site -- a self-renewing membership. It's a never-ending source of complaints, for a variety of reasons.
Migliano decided to cancel her membership, so she went to the Spirit website and told them she wanted "out." She collected evidence of the cancellation, including screen shots of the transaction.
But Spirit continued to bill her the $59 annual fee.
She asked it to stop and refund her money. Spirit refused. So she disputed her credit card bill. Amazingly, it didn't think much of her evidence and sided with the airline in the dispute. She believes it's because she charged it to her Barclay Frontier Airline card, which, I admit, is an interesting theory.
Maybe Spirit should have taken a moment to research this complaint, if not the customer. Migliano has PhD in neuroscience, as a matter of fact.
Anyone with basic Google-Fu skills could have told you the refund was the easy way to go.
"I filed complaints against with both the Florida Division of Consumer Services and the Florida Attorney General's Office," she explains. "Since Spirit is based in Miramar, I also filed a complaint with Broward County."
And that's not all.
"I took advantage of Florida insurance and tort law," she adds. "I suffered financial damages, so I sent Spirit the standard statutory 627 letter putting them on notice of a potential claim for losses, damages and injuries. The statute gives them 30 days to provide me with their liability carrier information, which obviously, it did not."
After 45 days with no response, Migliano filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Financial Services' Office of the Insurance Commissioner.
She received a full refund from Spirit, plus a reimbursement of her costs.
"It was a long way to get it," says Migliano. "But it was worth it to spank Spirit."
Migliano thinks she's discovered a loophole that other airline passengers can take advantage of, via Florida's Chapter 627 statute. I'll let her explain:
My biggest lesson in all this is to send these 627 letters to any carrier I feel has wronged me or left me with financial damages.
None of them take the statutory letter seriously, opening the way for a Civil Remedy Notice and for the state to get involved.
Now, Global Aerospace Insurance, Northwest Airlines' insurance carrier, must pony up for damages for cancellations, downgrades and a stolen camera from 2006 and 2007 because Northwest acted like [expletive] to me back then with their carrier agreement and then went silent.
Migliano may have uncovered a way to circumvent federal pre-emption and stick it to an airline that sticks it to you. Then again, she may be using a state regulation in a way it was never meant to be used.
If Spirit hadn't taken such a hard line on its refunds -- after all, what did it stand to lose by refunding a "club" membership in the overall scheme of things -- then this passenger wouldn't have opened what could be a Pandora's box for everyone else to exploit.
Spirit likes to think of itself as the McDonald's of the skies, but even McDonald's understands it's in the hospitality business. When you have a problem with your burger, it doesn't get thrown back in your face.
If Weiner wants to punish Spirit, maybe someone needs to send him Migliano's number.
After you've left a comment here telling me to lay off the Weiner references, let's continue the discussion on my consumer advocacy site or on Twitter, Facebook and Google. I also have a free newsletter and you'll definitely want to pre-order my new, amazingly helpful and subversive book called How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle). Photo: Tacar/Shutterstock