Spirit Airlines Gate Agents Lay Down The Law With Passengers When Cancelling Flight

Spirit Airlines flight NK1095 from Philadelphia to Orlando on December 26 cancelled, after a delay of several hours. Passengers in the boarding area were not at all happy, and Spirit gate agents have… their own way of communicating with customers. They let everyone know there would be refunds, or rebookings, but passengers would have to wait several days if they wanted another flight from Philadelphia. And don’t expect Spirit to pay for hotels!

This video of the announcements is… really something.

Here’s the thing that is most striking to me, other than the gate agents lacking the more formal announcement style you might find at American, Delta or United.

  • The plane was cancelled in Orlando and didn’t fly to Philadelphia, so couldn’t turn back around. Weather in Philadelphia was actually fine at the time, in the 30s with light winds and no precipitation.

  • If the issue was mechanical or crew-related then the agent (really, the airline) is violating Spirit’s published customer service plan by denying hotels and meals as a result of a controllable cancellation.

You should of course look at what sort of trip delay coverage you have from the credit card used to purchase your tickets. But you aren’t entirely on your own here. I’d definitely pursue Spirit over this, get an official denial, and then file a DOT consumer complaint. If the real reason for delay wasn’t weather, the airline owes expense reimbursements, and should be fined for failing to follow its own written procedures.

Secretary Buttigieg goes on TV when Southwest Airlines is cancelling flights, demanding the airline cover traveler expenses. All eyes are on Southwest’s meltdown. But when TV isn’t watching? Under the law, DOT is the primary venue of recourse. Although small claims court is appropriate as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I know these airlines have challenges, weather, equipment, or crew. But when I had an issue with American, I was rebooked automatically before contacting an agent. I never have and will never fly spirit; I gave up on Southwest over seven years ago because of constant delays and schedule changes.

  2. That’s an absurd way to speak to customers but from a practical perspective that is probably all they physically could do – not like two obviously not particularly seasoned gate agents can write their own vouchers or checks. One must take matters into their own hands and pursue recourse later, and of course that video of disrespectful agents should make it much easier to get new travel costs taken care of.

  3. Hey Gary

    Isn’t Spirit the airline with the credit card you spoke so highly of a few months back? You were surprised what a great deal it was, etc.?

    Some of us pointed out then, and do again, that it’s simply an awful airline. May not be quite as dangerous as Allegiant, but it’s still garbage

  4. But Spirit will be juts a bad memory soon as JS bought them and will make all Jet Blue service. We all know JS bought pilots not Spirit.

  5. While the gate agents might have been technically incorrect about Spirit policies and their delivery informal, given the raw emotion that was undoubtedly present and the likely badgering the gate agents endured prior to the video’s start, I don’t find the gate agents’ conduct inappropriate. Of course, like so many others, I haven’t and never will fly Spirit or Frontier or JetBlue. And, I’m the first to criticize Spirit. But, not in this case.

  6. Classy team classy airline!
    It’s my airline partner of choice said no one in their right mind ever

  7. So their managers left them on the front line with 100+ angry people and some of you are upset they took control best they could?

    I’m glad I don’t work for some of you.

  8. Again , stressed employees, not their first rodeo! Just flew Spirit 2 days ago , no problem. For $500. I would receive more professional treatment , but I chose economy .

  9. The agents were rude, but I don’t blame them because those yelling passengers were worse. I’d never fly spirit because I don’t want to be trapped in a metal box with the people who would fly spirit.

  10. I had the same agent when my spirit flight was cancelled on Christmas Eve. I was kind and never raised my voice yet she was still rude. This doesn’t surprise me.
    Spirit offered us a flight 3 days later. They made no attempt to help salvage our vacation.
    Lesson learned. No more Spirit.

  11. This is the difference of NK vs a traditional carrier. WN did have a meltdown – but it truly was more of an “act of God” that actually caused the issue. WN couldn’t handle it but it was still caused by weather that put them in the situation same as all carriers. WN because of Secretary of Transportation HONORED vouchers even though regulations technically permitted them to not take care of accommodations due to weather. But as bad as the WN situation is, they are still a classier act than Spirit and they did step up. NK – if this isn’t weather related which seems likely because they didn’t say due to weather – which would have given them leeway and have something to explain to customers – either way bad and clearly the agents don’t know how to handle it. Response about agents not able to offer vouchers – major legacy carriers can and do – as they know about DOT rules. DL agents can offer up to 10,000 per customer willing to give up a seat !!! This is why, as a veteran travel professional of 30 years, I don’t fly Spirit !!!!

  12. I don’t understand the problem, Gary? The “Spirit” agents were doing their job the best they can while handling a hostile crowd… If this was truly a crew cancellation, then yes, Spirit does owe every pax a hotel and possibly meal vouchers, but if their uninformed, contacted supervisor told them otherwise, then there’s not much they can do… All Sprit gate agents are contracted, except in FLL… I work as a gate agent for a full service carrier, and will also refuse to help passengers who are verbally abusive to us, too! They can call or reservations number for assistance after I remark their PNR. No employee should have to tolerate abuse, especially when it’s not their fault! Were these gate agents posh? Perhaps not, but did get their message firmly across firmly to Spirit type pax? Yes! I could never work for a low cost carrier, especially as a contract employee who doesn’t share the same benefits, wages, or labor protections as the airline’s employees, and in a customer service position… Kudos to these spirit gate agents!

  13. My initial reaction when seeing this video was… GOOD FOR THE AGENTS!!!

    They shouldn’t have to put up with abuse! And passengers should be orderly just as I am when I have issues. Passengers don’t even line up right and orderly. They shut it down right away, and I am totally okay with that. I am a flight attendant, by the way.

    Americans should understand that flying is unreliable and unpredictable. Why are we still pretending as if we don’t know that?

    America should invest in high speed rail

  14. These two women should not be in a position involving customer relations. They responded to mild (and understandable) emotion and pushback from customers with a completely inappropriate pugnacious attitude. These employees are lacking in even minimal professionalism. But we’re all going to ignore that, and the collapse of our public culture. ..

  15. I’ve always found Spirit airlines, with an admittedly limited sample size, to be not particularly helpful and pretty much ignore you on the plane but at least it’s not frontier. frontier seems to make aggressiveness and rudeness a company policy. they probably would have lined everybody up and charged them for their bags and then canceled the flight. and that’s not to say that they’re wrong about the carry-on bags. that’s their business model but they are just nasty about it.

  16. You get what you say for … Not much. When you have to be there, dont fly Spirit. That or buy travel insurance and make sure you understand the terms.

  17. Wow, it’s amazing to me how stupid and entitled common people are. If you’re dumb enough to fly around Christmas, expect cancellations. If you’re dumb enough to fly while there are winter storms all over America, don’t get mad when your flight is canceled. Unbelievable.

  18. Nice,

    I wish all airlines treated americans this way. Its what you people deserve. You are a nation of children and should be treated as such.

  19. Frontier did the same thing to me but the gate agents were far more polite. Refused to pay for hotel because crew timed out after a mechanical delay and plane was delayed 15 hours. Seeing this video plus the Southwest meltdown over the holidays should be enough for politicians and regulators to require airlines to fly passengers on the next available flight on any carrier. When there is no slack in the system and it strands passengers for days who are left to fend for themselves it becomes even more inconvenient than the awful tarmac delays of yesteryear before regulation was adopted. Sadly, because of the protections that legislation has provided the airline industry, I highly doubt that the DOT or Congress will do anything.

  20. I would go ahead and make contact with the FAA. I had to do that to get any response from Frontier. Spirit seems to be just as bad. Once the FAA is involved, the airline moves much quicker to do what they are requires by law to do.

  21. To chad. Out of 340 or so MILLION of us Americans you will find some of us acting like children. They usually get too much attention so it seems like more of us act that way. P.S. We are far thicker skinned than you might believe & are quite used to being insulted as a whole rather than the actions of the few.

  22. Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant are basically like flying in a 3rd world city bus with worse customer service. Most of the flight staff would be better suited selling snake oil door to door. The person who trains them definitely had a Kirby Vacuum sales background!

  23. None of you people are from Philly, I take it. I appreciate the direct and no-nonsense approach here.

  24. We really need to require airlines to cover lodging and meals for delays from any cause to end the runaround and lawyering. Let the airlines handle the weather delay insurance and build it into ticket prices.

  25. I’d rather know ahead of time all these details. And I think I would prefer to just wait for the next flight.

  26. As an airline employee who once worked in reservations, our mandate was the customer. Of course we had to follow the tariffs and rules but Rule 240 was indeed used. Taken from Wikipedia, “Federal Aviation Administration Rule 240 mandated that an airline with a delayed or canceled flight had to transfer passengers to another carrier if the second carrier could get passengers to the destination more quickly than the original airline.” This, of course, was NOT used if the issues were caused by a force majeure (weather, strikes or “acts of god”). Now, as a flight instructor I remind my pilots that the customer is the one that pays the bills. “The customer is NOT always right…but he’s always the customer.” While our company has indeed had issues, and is not known for always having the cheapest fares, we are encouraged to “do what’s right” whenever possible. It has to do with the quality and the training of the people we hire. With the low cost carriers, the fares are NOT always the best bargain. You usually get what you pay for.

  27. You get what you pay for when you fly budget. I fly all the time. I know what airlines to avoid

  28. Spirit totally violated the fair passage act, weather did not delay or cancel that flight. Stop the B.S. it’s time to shut down carriers like this. I Fly a lot, and NEVER with a low cost airline. Spirit and Frontier are both garbage carriers.

  29. Spirit is the worst airline.
    Had a very bad experience on Dec 27 2022.
    Got canceled in Dallas .was told I could not get any flights to my destination or to return home for 5 days..
    There was no offer of help with food or accommodation.
    I will be following up with the necessary authorities to confirm if weather was the issue.
    As a senior citizen, this was a stressful and costly situation.
    I noticed there were no stranded passengers from American airlines, or Delta , only Spirit.
    Going forward, I will never fly on Spirit, Frontier, Jet blue or any Discount airline.

  30. The agents were not rude, they were Philadelphian; very direct, almost brusque and very intolerant of any perceived slight or disrespect. Most employees for all carriers at PHL are like this. It is what it is.

  31. Flight delays and cancelations are known risks that we accept the minute we book our reservations. Booking flights with a discount airline during the holidays and/or in the winter simply exacerbates those risks. And when a risk becomes an issue, it is certainly not the gate agents’ fault. Their job is to help us resolve our issue.

    Be adults. Know the risks, have backup plans and most of all maintain your civility.

    I applaud these two women for staying strong and resolute, and for their frank communication. Formality is not a requirement in this scenario, Gary.

  32. The most important thing is people are voting for the lobbyist and not the lawmakers. This is fraud era.

  33. I don’t understand why passengers yell at gate agents, they are literally the ones trying to help you… you think they want you there stranded with them yelling in their face for stuff that’s out of their control? They are literally the messengers… and AGAIN i wouldn’t sit there and let an angry mob of 100 people yell at me… i would have left them where they stand, because i no longer feel safe! Take it up with the CEOS not the ground workers… you idiots…

  34. I’m actually truly concerned that people think the agents’ attitudes and manners of interacting with customers are in any way appropriate, recommended, or indicated. There’s rarely a reason as a customer to raise your voice to a customer service representative. But there is almost never an excuse for saying “if [condition], I will not help you,” particularly in a situation where they’re most likely being lied to about the cause of a problem after having been delayed for hours and taking no responsibility for the outcomes they caused.

    I am not defending any abusive customers, and certainly do not condone any disrespect on the part of a customer, but the customer service professionals are supposed to “rise above” in most cases. What a truly sad moment that so many rush to the agents’ defense.

  35. This last year when the east coast experienced the hurricanes my flight from St. Louis to Las Vegas was canceled twice. When I tried to rebook my flight and return flight. The customer service person was not fluent in English and wasn’t able to change anything without charging me $174.00 each way for changes. Any how,,, I was reserved for two not one but two return flights from Las Vegas. When I called to get this error changed they again wanted $174 00 each way to fix the problem. They refused any refund because I didn’t make my two flights from Las Vegas to St. Louis because I never got there. They just wouldn’t accept the fact that I wasn’t responsible for the missed flight. I’m out $400.00 for flight, seat assignment I signed up for and $ for my carryon luggage which I never got to use. I also owed my brother & sister $200.00 for hotel I never got to stay in. I understand the hurricane and two cancelations due to them. Please do us all a favor and get som customer service agents who actually know, speak and understand English. When I asked for a manager I was refused this is very unprofessional for service oriented business. I know because I worked in that sector for many years and there’s no excuse for this.

  36. The agents approach from the start was combative, rude, and hostile. Properly trained customer service people would have apologized, and sympathized with the travelers. Instead right away they started off with an attitude. That attitude should have been reserved for the customers that were rude, not everyone as a whole.

  37. I’m retired, like to travel and as cheaply as I can. It is true you get what you pay for…delays, occasionally unpolished gate agents, sometimes disheveled flight attendants, baggage crew rifling through checked bags, but thanks to the FAA always professional pilots. It’s up to me to know my bargain. Give me a dirt cheap ticket. Get me to my destination safely. It may not always be pretty, but it works. I suspect these scenarios scare the heck out those considering discount carriers. In a selfish way, that works for me. More open seats mean consistently lower fares, unfilled planes and thus more comfort. On some flights, especially early morning, I’ve been able to stretch out three across. Finally, know the “hot zone” destinations. You’re more likely to encounter calamity to and from Vegas and Orlando. But those cheap tickets buffer the pockets for the party life and amusement parks.

  38. I was booked on a plane from DFW to Tampa they canceled said it was weather I pulled up weather on a app said what weather it’s clear sky’s all the way to Tampa the only bad weather was in Chicago the plane was at the gate come to ind out they had no ground crews because of Covid call outs. I ended up on a delta and cost me $700 never again will I fly on spirit..

  39. When you fly cheap you received cheap treatment. First of all in this todays world when everybody knows everything (but at the end maybe know were they live) the do not understand all the factors that a flight is involved to be completed. Cheap passengers think fly is just go to the airport and seat in a plane or be maintained for day with hotel and food. They have to understand the ticket they bought was for transportation not to subsidies their vacation or daily basis they have to learn how to flight. And in the other dish of the scale airlines must sell what they can move an be specific on writing what they offer and what the passenger could receive. People who create panic on airports must be penalized and put in a data base for restriction is what they are looking for. No more jungle laws. Everuone deserve respect.

  40. How can you prove or disprove why a flight is canceled? I’m sure the airline is quick to blame weather so they do not need to reimburse for hotels, etc. If a crew times out do they owe you meals as well as a hotel?

  41. As far as the Gate Agents “not having the same management style as American, Delta, nor United” – Spirit is a no frills airline. Anyone expecting the same results as the “Major” Carriers, is expecting a lot. Actually, I feel sorry for the Gate Agents with an entire plane load of customers yelling at them. Thank goodness JetBlue will take Spirit to higher levels.

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