A former airline employee has been sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for using fake airline credentials to book 1953 free flights on Spirit Airlines over a 21 month period.
He was a Mesa Airlines employee for four months in 2015 before being fired by the regional airline. Mesa operates as both American Eagle and United Express. He learned to use his employee travel benefits from Mesa to fly Spirit with his credentials.
From February 2016 through November 2017 he took the information of Mesa employees that was needed to book free flights on Spirit through that carrier’s online portal. It was the online booking tool for interstate travel which triggered the federal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
In addition to his own travel, he admits that he “manufactured and sold fraudulent Mesa employee identification cards for use by the fraudulent travelers.”
The government describes these as ‘free’ flights. I’m not clear on the specific arrangement he was using through Mesa, though assuming these were Zed fares they aren’t free.
Regardless of any costs involved for the free flights, it’s been determined that Spirit lost $150,000 from these bookings or about $77 per flight. With most airline cases the values are inflated, with the airline estimating losses based on full fares. This is Spirit so the amounts are more reasonable.
However the ‘loss’ to the carrier isn’t the fare that would have been paid for travel (because travel likely wouldn’t have occurred, or wouldn’t have occurred on Spirit) but the marginal cost to carry a passenger (mostly fuel) except where flights were actually full and the fraudulent bookings displaced a paying customer – unlikely in the case of fraudulent nonrev travel.
Nonetheless the man has been ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution. If he was fired from Mesa Airlines he probably will have difficulty doing that.
Five co-defendants have pled not guilty and await trial (or a future plea).