Teenage Passenger Removed From Spirit Airlines Flight Whilst Parents Unaware

A teenage passenger was allegedly separated from her mother due to overselling on a Spirit Airlines flight. According to reports, the mother and her brother were unaware she’d been removed until part way through the journey. The family are suing for damages.

Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines allegedly split the family up. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Flickr

Getting bumped from a flight is never a pleasant experience, but sometimes the compensation makes it worth it. However, when you’re only 15 and are unwillingly separated from your Mom, the experience can be somewhat more traumatic.

This is what allegedly happened to a Wayne County family who were travelling with Spirit Airlines last year. Being unwilling to pay extra for assigned seating, the family were seated in different parts of the aircraft. That wasn’t a big deal, until one of the family members was removed without letting the others know anything about it.

Now the family are suing for damages, and Spirit Airlines have a heap of negative publicity to deal with.

What happened?

As reported by our friends at View From The Wing, the family of three, a mom, son and daughter, were travelling from Fort Lauderdale to Detroit last April. The route involved a connection in Tampa, which is where the problem occurred.

As the family hadn’t paid extra to book seats altogether, they were split up upon boarding the second aircraft. Stacy Giordano and her son took their seats towards the back of the aircraft, while her daughter was seated towards the front.

However, the flight was overbooked, and as a result the girl was removed from the airplane to make room for another passenger. Her mother was unaware she was being taken off, and only realized mid-flight that she was no longer on board.

Teen waiting at airport
The girl was left in the airport for three hours. Image: Pixnio

Apparently, the teen had tried to contact her mother by phone after being removed. However, as is airline policy for a push back, the Mom’s phone was on airplane mode.

The airline refunded the cost of the girl’s ticket and offered her extra flight miles as compensation. She was booked onto the next flight to Detroit, which left around three hours later.

‘You don’t just separate a child from their mother’

As a result of the separation, the Michigan Mom has filed a lawsuit against Spirit Airlines for ‘emotional distress’. Their lawyer, Jerry Thurswell, spoke to the press, saying,

“They didn’t want to hear anything. They just pulled her off the plane. When the child says my mother’s in the back of the plane why are you taking me off and they just take the child off and say sit here you’ll be on the next flight out. You don’t just separate a child from their mother.”

According to the lawsuit being filed by the family, both the Mom and the teen girl were highly distressed by the experience. They say that they, “became sick, suffered a panic attack and suffered great emotional distress, extreme fear, horror, mental shock, mental anguish and psychological trauma.”

The family are seeking $75,000 in damages.

Why would Spirit oversell their flight?

Overselling flights is a common practice, particularly in North America where there are fewer penalties for missing a booked flight. Airlines have to strike a tightrope-like balance between flying with enough passengers to make a profit and having to turn them away.

On average, 5% of booked passengers won’t turn up for their trip, and on some routes that figure can be as high as 15%. This could mean a flight is operated a significantly less than full capacity, and with carrier profits sometimes as tight as 1% of the revenue of each flight, they just can’t let that happen.

Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines aren’t unusual for overselling flights. Photo: Wikimedia

Of course, those missed passengers themselves create a liability for the airline. With many tickets offering flexible rebooking policies, that 5% could rock up at any time, expecting to be able to board the next flight.

Selling plane tickets is not as simple as selling the same number of tickets as there are seats. Carriers use complex algorithms and historical data to estimate how many no-shows and how many flexible ticket extra passengers will be encountered by any specific flight and sell other seats accordingly.

This is not a foolproof method, of course, and as a result around 46,000 US travelers get bumped from their flights each year. Out of the 750 million or so who travel domestically each year, that’s pretty good. It’s less than 0.006% in fact. Still, that’s little comfort to you or your family if you’re the ones getting bumped.

Spirit Airlines have declined comment in relation to pending litigation but have released a statement saying that “the safety and security of our guests is our top priority.”