United Shows Spirit Airlines How to Handle a 'Flight from Hell'

When it comes to the airlines, sometimes you get what you pay for – but this may not become obvious until a rare problem crops up. Consider the following two hell flights.

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Hell Flight: Spirit

Passengers on Spirit flight 310 were heading from Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale on July 7 when they had to divert to Houston due to an unruly passenger. The four-and-a-half hour flight ultimately stretched into a 19-hour ordeal as passengers were stuck on the plane, then in the airport – Bush Intercontinental. Spirit offered neither food nor hotel rooms though it should be noted that Spirit’s contract of carriage does not require the carrier to provide such amenities. However, the worst part of the ordeal, according to media reports, was the lack of information. Since the airport is not currently served by Spirit, there was no one there to answer passenger questions, and apparently they couldn’t get information via any other means, either.

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Hell Flight: United

Passengers on United flight 87 from Shanghai to Newark expected a 13-hour trip but got a three-day saga, thanks to maintenance delays and then crew overtime difficulties. At one point, a Chinese passenger staged a mini-revolt causing additional chaos, but at least a pilot spoke to some passengers, at one point directing them to the proper gate, plus hotel accommodations were provided. The Wednesday flight eventually landed in New Jersey on Saturday, July 14.

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The Difference between Airlines

Although both flights were brutal, and both airlines could have done more for their passengers, United appears to have done a slightly better job of keeping its customers informed of problems. And in the matter of amenities and compensation, the legacy carrier clearly came out on top.

Compensation for Stranded Passengers

Spirit Flight 310 United Flight 87
Compensation for food, hotel: NO Compensation for food, hotel: YES
Tickets refunded: YES Tickets refunded: YES
Voucher for future flights: $100 Voucher for future flights: $1,000

Both airlines cite safety as their highest priority – as it should be. After that, though, there is a difference in airlines, and although customer service has increasingly gone the way of free checked-bags, some airlines still offer more than others. Spirit has long made it clear that frills play little part in what it calls its ‘ultra low base fares’ and with luck, its passengers will never have to discover how Spirit handles problems, either.


Published: July 16, 2012