Airlines abuse check-in deadlines

SJO 013Have you ever been told by an airline agent that you had missed the check-in deadline, even though you arrived at the airport well before the published cutoff time? That happened to dozens of Spirit Airlines passengers this week, but it’s nothing new. Agents have been abusing customers for years and have even made them pay penalties.

A former intern of mine told me once that he was returning home to Washington from Las Vegas with a friend when an agent declared it was too late to check them in. At least the agent was honest and admitted that the fault wasn’t theirs. Technically, there was still time before the deadline, but the flight was overbooked. Because the two passengers didn’t have seat assignments and the plane was already full, there was no space for them — despite the fact that they were holding confirmed and paid tickets for the flight.

The agent was not only honest but incredibly arrogant, making the students pay a $150 change fee each to get on another flight. The young men didn’t know better as to stand up for their rights and ponied up the penalties. So the airline, which had overbooked the flight and made money from more passengers than there were seats for on the aircraft, ended up making even more money from apparently inexperienced travelers.

There should be serious penalties for airlines in such cases, because that’s a clear violation of Department of Transportation rules on overbooking. The customers should have been compensated, not shamelessly gouged and taken advantage of.

Obviously, I only have one side of the story, and while I’m not trying to excuse the airline agents who abuse paying customers in this disgraceful manner, there are two basic things the young travelers could have done to prevent the situation they found themselves in.

First, they should have had seat assignments. I realize that sometimes there are no available seats at the time of purchase, or the only seats left may require additional fees. But, as I pointed out in Decoding Air Travel, seats are likely to open up, so checking the seat map from time to time could solve that problem. The second thing is online check-in, starting at 24 hours or more before departure. I continue to be utterly perplexed by how many passengers choose to wait in lines instead.

Again, I’m not trying to excuse the apparent abuse by airline agents, but travelers should know basic rules and their rights, so they don’t allow agents to take them for a ride.

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One thought on “Airlines abuse check-in deadlines

  • Have a question regarding checked luggage and passengers being denied boarding onto Spirit Airlines flight just this past Tuesday, March 22. Once an airline checks your luggage onto a flight, is that plane allowed to depart with your checked luggage and leave you behind at the boarding gate without so much as an explanation? Well Spirit stranded approximately 25 passengers who had checked luggage down in Fort Lauderdale while their luggage continued on the flight up to Laguardia Airport in NY. My wife called to notify me that they were on line at the gate waiting to board the Spirit flight along with 25 other passengers when the Spirit boarding agent turned around without any warning and walked off closing the door behind her barring entry to 25 passengers. I drove from my home in NJ over to Laguardia airport to retrieve my wife and son’s luggage which a baggage handler had wheeled out on a very large luggage rack with approximately 25 to 30 other pieces of luggage. Explained to the baggage handler that my wife and son were denied boarding along with two dozen other passengers yet their luggage made it onto the plane. I didn’t want their luggage to go missing hence the reason for my trip. Provided identification to the baggage handler to verify that the luggage belonged to my wife and son and he let me retrieve their bags. I asked him if it was a violation of some sort of FAA regulations to allow a checked piece of luggage to be boarded onto a plane without the passenger(s) to be boarded onto that plane as well. In this case, not one or two passengers but two dozens as evidenced by the amount of bags on the luggage rack he was pushing. He stated that it was rather unusual to have that many unclaimed suitcases and agreed in regards to violating FAA’s policy of of checked luggage and passengers not being present for the flight but also thought that maybe it had something to do with the terror attacks that had occurred earlier that very day in Brussels. If anyone is aware of whether or not a violation of federal guidelines and policies has occurred in this situation would love to hear from you.

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