I take pride in my ability to stay cool, calm and collected at pretty much all times. It’s a trait I definitely inherited from my dad, and for the most part it serves me well. It takes a lot to make me angry and activate that other side of me. That side that can’t keep calm and carry on. That side that gets all worked up and takes some time to come back down.
Well, on one beautiful summer day in 2013, Spirit Airlines figured out precisely how to push that button when they decided to mess with two of the few things that I hold sacred in this world: my travels and my birthday.
The drama all started with my quest to make my 23rd birthday a special one. I knew I wanted to travel but the question was where to go. After some researching and debating, my travel buddy and I decided that five days on the beautiful beaches of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic would do the trick.
We searched far and wide for an affordable flight and when we found one through Spirit Airlines, the decision became official. We were going to celebrate my birthday in the Dominican Republic. We bought the tickets and thought we were home free. All that was left to do was pack our bags and hop on our direct flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Punta Cana, but Spirit Airlines had other plans for us.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with Spirit Airlines, it’s one of the closest things that we have in the U.S to compare to Europe’s low cost airlines. It’s a self described “ultra low cost airline” for the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America and just like Ryanair, Vueling and its other European equivalents, they will nickel and dime you every chance they get. I have no problem with this since I’m getting a cheap flight, but as the saying goes… You get what you pay for.
On the day of our flight, like the good travellers we are, we arrived at the ticket counter a few hours before departure to get everything squared away. We checked in our bags, handed over our passports and patiently waited for our boarding passes in return. The ticket agent stared at her computer for a while then printed out something that did not look like a boarding pass.
“I can’t assign you a seat here. You’ll have to do that at the gate,” she said as she handed us the paper with all of our information including the gate number. I thought it was strange but didn’t pay much attention to our lack of seat numbers as we gathered our things and walked through security.
When we got to the gate, the passengers were already boarding and the gate agent looked flustered, typing away on his computer and making announcements over the loud speaker. We waited for him to finish then explained our situation. “Just hold on one second. I’m looking for volunteers,” he responded before rushing off to make another announcement. Volunteers? Volunteers for what? My travel buddy stayed calm but a huge red flag immediately went up in my head. That’s when I decided to actually listen to the announcement the gate agent was making, and that’s when I realized that we were probably not getting on that plane.
He was offering $100, two free round trip tickets to anywhere that Spirit Airlines flies, food vouchers and a guaranteed seat on the next day’s Punta Cana flight to anyone who was willing to give up their seat on this flight. He got off the speakerphone and I started demanding answers. “The flight is overbooked and we only have a seat for one of you,” he said. Then he added with a calm but clearly annoyed look on his face, as though this were a phrase he’s had to say many times before, “The airline reserves the right to overbook a flight by 10% in order to ensure a full flight.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and with that, the other side of me came out and was ready for action. Although I hate to do it, I was about to become one of those people causing a scene in public. I knew that this gate agent had nothing to do with Spirit Airlines’ ridiculous policy, but I was furious and I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to at least try to pressure him to make things happen for me.
After some useless arguing with the gate agent, his supervisor came over to see what was going on. The supervisor’s arrogance and smug attitude did not help my mood. He insisted that it wasn’t such a big of a deal and that one of us should just go ahead and wait for the other person to meet up the next day. When I said I didn’t feel comfortable with that the man actually said, and this is a direct quote here people: “You’ll just be taking a taxi straight from the airport to the resort. What could happen?”
What could happen? Seriously? What could happen?! Has this man not seen the movie Taken? In all seriousness though, chances are that nothing would happen but there’s still a possibility that a lot could go wrong, and it’s my right to not want to travel alone! I paid for two tickets for two people to fly together, and that’s what I wanted. I was not going to leave my travel buddy behind.
Eventually, the gates closed and the plane’s engines revved up to leave for paradise without us. Originally the gate agent and his jerk of a supervisor only wanted to give the offer of the $100, two round trip tickets and food vouchers to one of us since technically the other person could have flown that day. After some negotiating, we got them to give us both the same offer. It was a small win in a day full of epic fails.
So off we went to the customer service desk to claim our consolation prize. The woman there typed a few things on her computer then handed us the paperwork that would allow us to collect our flight and food vouchers along with the $100 checks. As we were about to walk away with our heads hanging in defeat, the woman had an epiphany. “We have a flight going to Santo Domingo in a few hours, “ she said. “It’s three hours away from Punta Cana, but we can pay for the taxi to your hotel.”
And with that, we were given new hope. She made a few phone calls all while the jerk supervisor looked over shoulder, and within 15 minutes we had two confirmed seats on the Santo Domingo flight. It wasn’t ideal by any means. I was losing a day in paradise and missing the Enrique Iglesias concert that was going on that night at my hotel! But this solution was far better than arriving in Punta Cana the next afternoon and essentially losing another day of my precious vacation.
After everything was sorted out, I gave the jerk supervisor one last death stare before we walked over to yet another desk to pick up our food vouchers and the $100 checks. According to the woman who had helped us with the flight, we were still entitled to those. When we got to the desk, we handed over our paperwork to the woman working there. She gave us the vouchers and the checks then said, “Oh! You guys have free flight vouchers too! Let me go get those.”
She walked off so quickly she probably didn’t notice the confused and surprised expressions on our faces. My travel buddy turned to me, and I turned to him. Our looks communicated everything we were thinking: We’re still getting flight vouchers even though they put us on a flight today? Is this a mistake? The other woman hadn’t mentioned anything about the flight vouchers, right?
Whether it was a mistake made by the woman at the first desk or the one at the second, or it was simply not a mistake at all, the smiles on our faces also communicated our final decision: We didn’t care. We were getting those vouchers. After all the drama they put us through, we were going to take everything we could from them just like they do to their customers on a daily basis.
So with all of our freebies in hand and smiles across our faces, we hopped on our flight to Santo Domingo and then onto our three-hour taxi ride to Punta Cana, which actually wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be. We got to the hotel more than seven hours later than scheduled; we missed the Enrique Iglesias concert (which upset me much more than it did my travel buddy); and we were exhausted, but at least we made it safe and sound along with all of our suitcases.
That was my first time getting bumped off of a flight, and I sincerely hope it was my last. I didn’t even know that airlines were allowed to do that, but apparently they are and this happens all the time not only with Spirit but with other airlines as well. As much as I told that jerk supervisor that I would never ever under any circumstances fly with Spirit Airlines ever again, chances are that I probably will. Who am I kidding? For travelling in the Caribbean and parts of North and South America, their prices really are great. That is, of course, as long as you’re fine with getting the bare minimum in terms of service and you’re careful not to get stuck with any of their extra, semi-hidden fees.
I can also admit that although I was not a happy camper in that moment and the jerk supervisor did not help (seriously, I will never get over his rudeness), Spirit Airlines did end up taking care of me and travel buddy pretty well… considering the fact that it was their dumb policy that got us kicked off the plane in the first place. *rolls eyes*