Dealing With Spirit Airlines During Delays and Cancellations

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The Houston area is dealing with its second round of “winter weather warnings” within the last week.  This is not very normal for this area in the winter, certainly not twice in one week.  Put freezing temperatures and precipitation together in this part of the country and all heck breaks lose until we warm back up…honestly just put the potential of freezing temps and precipitation together and things start going haywire.  In anticipation of this winter weather (non) event, the airlines were very proactive in cancelling lots of flights for today as the day rolled on yesterday.

Departures board at IAH today

Departures board at IAH today

Anyone watching the news saw what was coming, and since my parents were scheduled to fly their “favorite” airline today, Spirit, I tried to help them proactively fly out yesterday in advance of possible weather or cancellations today.  First, I tried to simply tweet with Spirit Airlines and see what was possible.  Some airlines, such as American Airlines, are very active on Twitter and it can be the fastest way to get some help or answers.  However, with Spirit I might as well have been tweeting with my old dog.  She would have been more responsive.  Since that got nowhere, I picked up the phone.  My mom had already done the same the night before with no success, but I thought since the weather and flight were now a bit closer, I might have more success.

By the time I called, most of the other major airlines had issued “weather waivers” for the Houston airports that would allow free changes.  I got through to a real person very quickly, but it was pretty clear early on this was likely an outsourced call center that wasn’t going to be overly helpful.  I tried to explain the situation and asked if they could move to the earlier flight to beat the weather.  I was told their scheduled change was only 1 minute, not 15 minutes, so they could not change.  I tried explaining I wasn’t calling about a schedule change, I was calling to inquire about a weather waiver because of all the impending warnings about the weather.  Again, I was told something about the one minute schedule change not being sufficient.  After talking in circles for a while, it was clear there was no ability to go off-script.

Normally this could be a hang-up and call back situation to see if you have more luck with another agent, but since my experience matched 100% what my mom reported with the two agents she talked to, that didn’t seem like a worthy endeavor.  We knew that Spirit would likely cancel their flight the next morning, as many of the other airlines were doing the same, but could not do anything about it (without spending more money to change) until they potentially issued a “Weather Buster” policy.

Eventually, after all other airlines had done so, they did issue that weather waiver.  My dad got the email from them, and it was posted on their website.  This time my dad called in to try and get on the flight out that evening, and he was told there was no availability for that flight.  This was clearly not the case since they were not only selling tickets for that flight on their website, but still had seats at the “saver” award level that my parents were booked at.  By this point my parents decided to just give-up and hope for the best with their AM flight…and then it cancelled.

Spirit Weather Buster

We were more than done with calling Spirit, so went back to their website and now that the waiver was in place, and the flight was cancelled, we were able to easily change to the flight they wanted out that night without a fee.  At this point that flight was just a couple of hours out, so they hurried up to finish getting ready and headed to the airport.  That change would have been possible hours later on all other airlines in the area, but it did finally work out on Spirit.  Had they not been proactive, I’m not sure when they would have gotten to their destination since Spirit does not have the best reputation during irregular operations.

Lessons Learned:

It all worked in the end, but through helping them I did get some first-hand experience working with Spirit Airlines customer service.  It is, as expected, pretty bad.  If you need to call in to get help, you might as well just go talk to yourself in the mirror as you will be a better listener.  Everyone we spoke with was polite, but totally unhelpful.  Even once the weather waiver was issued, they gave inaccurate information about the available options.

During irregular operations I would expect them to act slower than everyone else, but they may eventually issue what they call a “weather buster” so you can make changes.  You can keep an eye on their website for this waiver.

Before then, my experience showed that you are not going to get any wiggle room at all, even if logic is on your side.  When/if the weather buster happens, just go to the website to make your changes.  It may not be a perfect website, but you will have better luck there than with calling and trying to talk to someone.

They also were not immediately re-booked on another flight, so be proactive.  We got our own new flight shortly after the cancellation, so I’m not sure if Spirit would have eventually re-booked them automatically, but I would not leave that in their hands.

Thankfully this weather event had advanced notice, and should be short-lived.  In the case of a bigger event with a bit less notice, it may be much harder to get out on Spirit in time, but now you have a little more info on your side if you want to try.  Or, you may be like many other travelers and never consider Spirit in the first place. 

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  1. Sounds just like my experience with American Airlines last week, except by the time they issued the waiver and cancelled my flight I was out of flight options. It’s not just spirit who isn’t helpful. I learned my lesson about flying an airline when I don’t have top tier status (stick with United).

    • Agree much of this ain’t unique to spirit. Just a bit worse with them! Having status helps be more proactive with weather for sure.

  2. This experience matches my own experience dealing with Spirit in “unusual circumstances.” The experience can be very bad and, if you get unlucky, you can get stuck. It is the reason I “require” a HUGE discount to fly on Spirit, and I will only do so when I don’t have-to-absolutely-be-there at a certain time. No one should book with Spirit to save a few bucks. You should only book with them to save A LOT of money, and then hope for the best.

  3. Agree with previous post 100%: “…I will only do so when I don’t have-to-absolutely-be-there at a certain time. No one should book with Spirit to save a few bucks. You should only book with them to save A LOT of money, and then hope for the best.” Could not have said it any better.

  4. I am not sure how far your parents live from the airport, but my own experience with my parents is that they had a lot more success dealing with unusual customer service requests at the airport. That is any airport they have flown Spirit to/from except Fort Lauderdale. In FLL, they seem to have the same people that answer the customer service phones working at the desks.

  5. And this is precisely the reason I fly(and pay more for) Delta.
    No, they aren’t perfect but the service levels are so far apart it’s comical.

  6. Geoff —

    No question that Delta offers service far superior to Spirit.

    But in the Northeast, if you’re headed to Florida, Spirit’s roundtrip fares can sometimes be $150 per ticket lower than “the majors.” Nine times out of ten, your flight on Spirit will be similar to that on Delta (minus the free coke, extra legroom and the ability to take a full size rollerboard). If you’re travelling with your family, is that superior service worth, say, $600 for a family of 4 for a 2-hour flight? I would say no. That’s why I sometimes fly Spirit, even though I don’t particularly like their service.

  7. @iahphx, I agree to a point. Spirit has limited service from my hometown. Very limited. In your case Spirit MIGHT, repeat, MIGHT work. In my case I always connect no matter where I go(hubs excepted, of course) as such the chance of a problem rises, especially in the winter(or summer thunderstorms).
    Getting stuck by Spirit would wipe out any savings and just the hassle of Spirit is not worth worrying over.
    Caveat emptor.

  8. Spirit airlines saved me around 50% off the next price for Christmas flights. $900 to about $1700 for a family of 5. Our flight was delayed 3 hours and we got $50 voucher per person = X 5. I can deal with delays as I’m an infrequent flyer, but the pictures of icky bathrooms from mommy points trip gross me out. I’m fine bringing on my own peanuts and water bottle, but I’m not okay with lack of cleanliness.

  9. Was your dad interviewed about the weather/flying? I saw a man that looked just like him (I enjoy your parent’s trip reports) on CNN/HLN this morning?

  10. m-
    I flew Spirit last weekend, and entered the bathroom with trepidation because of MP’s post. It was fine. Just fine. Now, I don’t think every single Spirit bathroom will be spotless, but so far, the two round trips I’ve had on the airline have been fine.

  11. Alanea, that is too funny. He actually was interviewed by a local NBC station on the way to the airport last night. It must have been picked up by CNN too. Ha!
    Katie, so glad your lav experience was better than mine!

    I agree with most of the sentiments here that Spirit can be worth it, if the savings is good enough. It has been once for me so far, and likely will be again at some point.

  12. So here is my story about Spirit: I bought a good ticket from Minneapolis to Chicago, bare bones, which was fine with me. ON the way back they were oversold and they offered one voucher ticket to volunteers that wanted to give up their seat. As they couldn’t find volunteers that easily (maybe most people knew what they would ge tinto if they said yes) they raised the offer to 2 vouchers. After a bit of thinking, as I had to miss work the next day and I was dieing so see my daugher, I said yes. I though, here it goes to one fun trip with her in the future. They put us up in the worst hotel they could find but that’s another story. When I try to get the vouchers redeem (I still have a couple of days to do it if I want to) I realized that even if they claimed to be usable for up to $500 tickets, they have virtually no value. You can only use them in April to get the most value and most of the times they’d give me a discount of$60 to $100 for a ticket and I have top ay the rest which goes from $100 more to $300 more. I guess I knew that Spirit was the worst airline around but I gave them a try. In the past I had a great experience being bumped of a flight with United. They have my husband and me a $600 voucher each, put us in a 5 star hotel and upgraded us to busness class the next day on a trip to South America. Sweet. Next time you hear Spirit wants to bump you off the plane, JUST SAY NO.

  13. Thanks for this post, as just over a year later, the situation repeats. We are scheduled to fly out of Dfw early Thursday morning, bound for south Florida and a much needed visit with Nana and Poppy. But the forecast warnings are shouting sleet and snow beginning Wednesday afternoon, with heavy travel impacts for half of Texas. As I would prefer to have some proactive plan for traveling with 5 children ages under 1 to 13 years, but looks like we will be waiting to the last minute. Spirit is cheap flights and equally cheap service.

    • Jasmine, winter has been rough this year for sure – just keep looking for a Weather Buster announcement. They won’t be able to help you until that happens. Good luck!

  14. Winter storm Jonas (2016) has resulted in a Spirit weather advisory, but it seems to come up only through Twitter. There’s a reference to it on their website — under Help — but the link is broken and so it won’t pull up. A Google search produces nothing under either weather advisory or weather buster; ditto for searches through “all” Spirit press releases.

    I’m not flying this week but, if I were, I would’ve really had to hunt for that advisory.

    My searches did pull up this post, however. Nice summary.

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