Teen Removed From Her Seat on Overbooked Flight While Mom Sat in Back of the Plane Unaware

When you buy a ticket on a low cost carrier you won’t get seats together unless you pay for them in advance. Book a Basic Economy ticket on Delta, United, or American and you can expect the same.

Indeed buy a ‘regular’ coach ticket on a legacy airline and you may not get to sit with your family traveling on the same itinerary either — so many seats are held back for extra cost that buying up to a regular economy fare often just means the right to pay even more for a non-middle seat.

That can be frustrating, to be sure. And politicians have certainly grandstanded on less. For years I’ve been critical of the ‘Families Fly Together Act’ which would mandate that traveling parties be given seats together for free. Seats are valuable commodities. One reader gave up his seat so a family could sit together only to have the family member sell their seat to another passenger for cash.

Sadly airlines don’t exactly make it easy to sympathize with them. Spirit Airlines removed a 15 year old girl from a flight while her mother and brother were left on. The girl was seated towards the front of the aircraft, her family towards the back. She tried to notify her family but their phones were already placed into airplane mode as required for push back.

“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,” Thurswell told 7 Action News.

Major airlines are loathe to actually remove a passenger from their seat due to overbooking after United’s David Dao passenger dragging incident. Spirit apparently has no such concerns, even with teenagers.

They were flying Fort Lauderdale – Tampa – Detroit last April, a year after Dr. Dao was pulled off a United Express flight. The incident occurred during their connection in Tampa and the teen was put on the next flight to Detroit. The family is suing for $75,000 claiming emotional distress.

The airline says “The safety and security of our Guests is our top priority.” They “reportedly refunded Giordano for a ticket and offered her extra miles.” Spirit’s miles, however, present their own set of challenges.

Copyright: boarding1now / 123RF Stock Photo

Here’s my seat selection strategy to make sure you get the best seat on the plane whenever you fly.

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. Gary: I’ve flown Spirit lots of times with my family and have never paid for seats. We check in 24 hours in advance and, so far, have always been seated together. Towards the back, of course.

  2. What if this 15 year old has medical conditions that require medicine in her mom’s possession? This is not acceptable.

  3. These IU.S. carriers are daring us to re-reg them!

    Returning from Orlando to Chicago on United in Feb, 2003, my family was separated, with me in front in a middle seat; my daughter and wife in the rear. Just before the flight pushed away, the door was opened and a frantic woman rushed on board.

    When we landed at ORD, I learned that my wife, inexperienced to air travel, was requested by a FA to put my daughter in her lap for the entire flight. My wife did not realize that per FAA regs I had purchased my daughter her own seat, as she was over 2 yrs. The FA was too ignorant to check the manifest.

    Apparently, UA abrogated its contract for a required seat per FAA for my daughter to double that seat’s revenue. Upon return to Chicago, I contacted the FAA and provided the gruesome details. What if their was turbulence, or, a hard landing, etc? The FAA reported back UA did not make a move to defend itself; fined UA in high 6 figures. I litigated UA with terms to remain undisclosed.

    For any airline to act that stupid and callous, the book should be thrown against them—and the crew members involved in acting so ignorant.

  4. Spirit Airlines: Flying Trailers.

    Good advice: pay a little more and avoid the low-end of things in life.

  5. We’re flying Allegiant with our son who will be 25 months-old at the time of travel. We’re not paying the exorbitant fees and I’m reeeeeally curious to see if they’re going to assign our 2 year-old next to random passengers.

  6. Colorado Joe: I wouldn’t expect the airline to do much…however my faith in mankind to do the right thing is there.

  7. This is not hyperbole, but how is this not considered kidnapping? You forcefully take a minor child away from her parents without even notifying the parents and make them stay in another city 1,000 miles away separated from family?

    If I were this mother, I’d be filing a criminal kidnapping complaint and then own Spirit Airlines after the court case.

  8. This is absurd. Are the FAs and gate agents brain dead? They are going to separate a minor from her family? There needs to be more laws protecting consumers when it comes to airlines. They get away with way too much.

  9. I’ve never understood the emergency need to remove someone from the plane to put someone else on. What is the rationale?

  10. She’s 15. Case-closed. You don’t separate a minor from their parent on a flight – period. Refund the ticket and points — puhleeze. Maybe not $75K, but refunding the ticket is a given, and points — come on, that’s nothing.

  11. 75K sounds like a good deal for Spirit. They should write that check post haste.
    In fact, they should get a new legal team if they plan to fight it. When Morgan&Morgan (M&M? Isn’t that a singer or a candy? No, it’s a bank. No again. It’s a law firm that is for the people… dot com.) is going to take them to the cleaners (reminds me of a vacuum cleaner mfg).
    You can play all the what if’s you want, but it’s a brand new day when airlines quit losing your luggage and start losing your travel mates! I guess they are going to start charging extra for actually getting you to your destination as agreed? By the way, if you pay to check luggage, do you get an automatic refund if they lose or delay your luggage?

  12. Separating illegal immigrant familes, who broke the law, very bad. Separating a 15 yr old from her mother on a plane, well that’s ok, profit before family

  13. We were flying Jetblue, confirmed seats which were paid for – Mosaic Status. They separated us from our 4 year old and pretty much told us too bad.

  14. Even for a loser airline like Spirit, this is a low-class move, not to mention stupid. Could they not discern that this was a KID? Hard to find sympathy for people whose only goal is CHEAP but in this case I hope they win a nice little settlement, even after legal fees.

  15. As the girl was 15 years old and a minor, the family should have filed a criminal complaint with the District Attorney in Ft Lauderdale charging SPIRIT personel with endangering the welfare of a minor. This girl was removed from her parents WITHOUT permission or any guarantee of adequate
    supervision. NO MATTER what their Carriage Terms may be, this is a clear violation of law. Civil suits are expected by Airlines, criminal charges will get the attention of management a lot quicker.

  16. Stupidity starts at the top.

    If an airline actually had “family values,” that would be part of the culture and training. The rank and file essentially reflects the morals and ethics of management.

    Not hard to train people not to do these things,. But if training centers only around revenue, and people are only evaluated and rewarded on how much money they make for the airlines, then this is the results.

    These airlines have apparently made the calculation that overall they make more money screwing people , then it costs them in terms of an occasional fine, lawsuit or bad publicity.

    Time to bring back government regulation if the airlines cannot regulate their own conduct.

  17. My daughter and her two boys, along with my niece and her two children received an alert from Spirit that their flight was delayed. When they arrived at the airport 2 hours before departure, they were told that they were late and they could not get on the plane. This was on a Sunday evening and were told that they could not fly them out until Wednesday. Personnel was rude and uncaring and continued to tell them that there was nothing they could do. They actually called the police on my daughter and niece. However, the police was very nice and understood their frustration and gave them his card and suggested they contact an attorney. Not only did they go through emotional stress, my daughter lost wages because she could not get home in time to go to work. She is still at the airport as I am writing this. Spirit SUCKS !!!

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