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airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.


If it weren’t September I’d think the recent news about Ryanair’s CEO calling passengers “idiots” was an April Fool’s joke. I mean, the CEO of a company who relies on its customers for business wouldn’t really call them idiots, would he?

But now that my initial shock has passed, I’m actually more surprised that I was surprised this happened. Despite the fact that business would dry up if passengers decided to revolt, Ryanair and its low-cost compatriot in the U.S., Spirit Airlines, are the two most customer-unfriendly airlines.

In his most recent “up yours” moment, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary called passengers who do not print out their boarding passes ahead of time “stupid” and “idiots,” the Huffington Post reported.

According to the article, O’Leary’s comments were prompted by a customer who complained about having to pay 300 euros to print out five boarding passes before flying from Alicante, Spain to Bristol, England. The whopping 60 euro charge for getting a boarding pass printed at the airport was upped from 40 euros in 2011 after a Spanish court found the fee to be illegal. The company vowed to fight the ruling and increased it rather than get rid of it.

Got a Complaint? Take It to Twitter — Even if Airlines Say Not to

When the angry customer took to Facebook to share her frustration, O’Leary responded in his usual customer-friendly (NOT!) manner:

“We think Mrs McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid. She wasn’t able to print her boarding card because, as you know, there are no internet cafes in Alicante, no hotels where they could print them out for you, and you couldn’t get to a fax machine so some friend at home can print them and fax them to you.”

Per The Independent, as quoted by the Huffington Post, O’Leary said that virtually all passengers print their boarding passes in advance, so to the few who don’t, he says “bugger off.”

O’Leary is not alone in his anti-customer spirit. Spirit Airlines’ CEO Ben Baldanza is also known for brushing aside customer complaints.

In an interview with FoxNews.com, Baldanza made it clear he does not subscribe to the “customer is always right” philosophy, saying that customer complaint rates are “an irrelevant statistic.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, out of 100,000 passengers last January, Spirit received 8.27 complaints, by far the worst record in the industry.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

But he told FoxNews.com you have to look at the statistics the other way around. “If you ran a restaurant, and out of every 100,000 customers, 8 of them said they didn’t like your menu, would you change your restaurant?” he asked. “Why don’t we interpret that 99.92 of all customers have no complaints? Because that is what it says.”

He most famously revealed his feelings about his customers in 2007 when he hit “reply all” instead of “reply” on a customer complaint that had been forwarded to him. In doing so he sent his reply not only to his employees but to the original customer as well. He wrote, “Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.”

Call me naïve, but I still believe the airlines are here to serve my needs and treat me accordingly. If that means I have to pay an extra penny or an extra $100 to go with an airline that still treats me like a valued customer, so be it.

Maybe folks that go with the low-cost carriers and expect to be treated well are idiots. What do you think?

– written by Dori Saltzman

airline baggage feesWhen Delta first began charging for a second checked bag internationally about four years ago, my husband and I swore we’d never fly them again. My husband is European and every time we go over we bring loads of stuff with us. Eventually we simply got used to the $50 fee. But then it went up to $75 and that was it for us — no more second checked bag. And then it went up again!

Unfortunately, the airline is no longer alone in charging a truly hefty fee for that second bag. United just announced that it too is raising the fee for a second checked bag from $75 to $100 for international flights.

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

I can’t help but wonder why the airlines are doing this. Do they really hope to make more money from folks who either don’t know how to trim their luggage down or are visiting relatives and therefore expected to lug over boatloads of gifts?

Or maybe they’re aiming for the point of no return at which most fliers will simply throw up their hands and say no more. Are too many second checked bags weighing the airlines down?

Some say this is what Spirit was aiming for when it recently began charging folks up to $100 for putting carry-on bags in the overhead bin. Cranky Flier, for one, said the airlines are penalizing passenger behavior they want to discourage. In Spirit’s case they’re hoping to cut down the number of people who wait until they’re at the gate to inform the airline they’ll be using overhead bin space.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

With fuel prices what they are and airlines trying to save every penny, perhaps it’s in their interest to cut down on the number of second checked bags. And for those who aren’t getting the message — or don’t care — I guess the $100 fee covers the extra fuel.

What do you think? Would you pay $100 for a second checked bag?



– written by Dori Saltzman

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

A Vietnam War veteran dying of cancer recently had insult added to injury when Spirit Airlines refused to refund his plane ticket, reports FoxNews.com. Jerry Meekins, 76, booked a flight last month with the ultra-low-cost carrier to visit his daughter, who was undergoing surgery. But a couple of weeks later, his doctor told him that the cancer he’d been battling for two years was terminal and that he was simply too ill to fly.

Meekins’ ticket was nonrefundable, so the airline refused to give him back the $197 he’d paid, or to allow him to transfer the ticket to his daughter. Instead, Spirit has offered only a credit for a future flight — one that Meekins will likely never be able to take.




Spirit’s stance on nonrefundable tickets isn’t unusual in the industry. On most airlines, the cheapest available fares are “nonrefundable and nontransferable”; if you want the option to change or cancel your plans, you’ll have to pay a premium for more flexible fares. But it’s not unheard of for airlines to make exceptions to their policies based on extenuating circumstances such as Meekins’. Take this example from consumer advocate Chris Elliott, who successfully got US Airways to give a refund to a traveler suffering from from liver disease. Sure, we understand that rules are rules for a reason. But isn’t there any room for a little compassion?

The Real Reason Fliers Hate the Airlines

Apparently not at Spirit, where things seem to be business as usual. The airline’s home page is currently advertising its latest summer sale fares, illustrated by a woman in a bikini holding a couple of provocatively positioned beach balls:

spirit airlines home page



Stay classy, Spirit.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Want to pack anything more than a laptop and a change of underwear on your next flight? You’d better pony up. As of tomorrow, low-cost carrier Allegiant Air will join Spirit Airlines in charging a fee not only for checked bags but also for any carry-on that won’t fit under the seat in front of you, reports MSNBC.com.

If you want your carry-on in the overhead bin, you’ll have to shell out $35 at the airport — or $10 – $30 (depending on your itinerary) if you pay online in advance. The charges will not apply to passengers who booked their flights before the new rules were instituted. If you check a bag instead, the cost ranges from $14.99 to $35, depending on where you’re traveling and whether you pay online or at the airport.

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Spirit Airlines became the first carrier to charge for carry-on bags back in 2010 (which later inspired the design of a new suitcase to help travelers avoid the fees). For travelers like me who prefer to travel with a carry-on only, this is a frightening trend. Aviation consultant Robert Mann told MSNBC.com that he didn’t think these fees would spread to the major carriers: “No business-oriented airline would do this to customers with a laptop and valet bag — they would drive them right off the airplane.”

But I’m not convinced. If the airlines have a chance to make a few extra millions from yet another fee, why wouldn’t they? Let us know what you think.



– written by Sarah Schlichter

spirit galacticHere at IndependentTraveler.com, we got through yesterday without slipping on any well-placed banana peels. (Whew.) But we did get a chuckle at some of the April Fool’s Day gags offered up by the airline industry this year.

Ultra-discounter Spirit Airlines extended its famous $9 fares to space travel with Spirit Galactic. Members of the carrier’s $9 Fare Club can enjoy ultra-cheap prices to the moon, but as always with Spirit, the devil’s in the details; additional “optional” fees include a million-dollar space suit and $1,200,000,000.99 for rocket fuel (“Hey, this stuff ain’t cheap”).

Spirit vs. Ryanair: Who’s the Ugliest Airline of Them All?

Skyscanner.net, an airfare search site, announced the launch of AirFair, a fare-free, “pay what you wish” airline that would allow passengers to give a donation based on what they think their flight was worth. “In order to ensure donations are sufficient to keep the airline profitable, AirFair has carried out extensive studies and plan[s] to offer flights only on routes most likely to generate high revenues,” reads the press release. “London City to St. Tropez, Monaco and Zurich are the first to be launched, whereas no flights to or from Scotland have been announced.” Zing!

Air New Zealand’s grabaseat.co.nz also trumpeted a splashy new product: Straight Up Fares, or standing-room-only tickets for full flights. Standing passengers, who can cling to hand straps dangling from the ceiling, will enjoy deep discounts “as consideration for the reduced inflight comfort, and the involuntary stranger-touching during turbulence,” according to the press release. For seniors who can’t easily reach the hand straps, says grabaseat manager Duane Perott, “We’ve modified a couple of Jolly Jumpers and hung them in the gap between the aft toilets. … We wanted to offer our elderly customers a solution with dignity, and I’m proud to say we’ve achieved that.”

The Most Awkward Moments in Travel

Finally, Canadian airline WestJet offers an innovative option for parents who don’t want to fly with their children any more than the rest of us do:



Did WestJet top last year’s effort, which called for airplanes filled with helium? Take a look:



– written by Sarah Schlichter

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Spirit Airlines wants your help. Proving that there’s more than one way to view just about everything, Spirit is asking consumers to pressure their government representatives to end consumer protections.

Spirit Airlines has been having a rather public hissy fit, ever since the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) new regulations took effect last week that require airlines and ticket agents to include all mandatory taxes and fees in their advertised airfares, and to disclose baggage fees.

Some airlines complained; most just changed their advertised prices to include taxes and fees and also changed the asterisk next to the airfares to reflect that change. Consumers now know the actual price of their purchase, just as they do when they buy a gallon of gasoline or a pack of cigarettes.

Spirit, however, dug in its heels. Perhaps distracted by its campaign to overturn the regulations, the airline simply didn’t advertise prices on its site for several days. The dollar signs and asterisks were still there, just no numbers. Instead, Spirit.com greets prospective passengers with a bold warning graphic next to the statement: “New government regulations require us to HIDE taxes in your fares. More info here.”

warning graphic


Clicking on “more info” takes you to a “say no to hidden taxes!” petition with links to representatives and senators. In the appeal, Spirit claims that by “hiding” taxes in airfare, the government can then “quietly increase their taxes.” And as “the transparency leader and most consumer-friendly airline,” Spirit doesn’t support the new DOT regs and asks consumers to help “stop this injustice.”

Yet the DOT’s mandate to show actual costs isn’t what really got Spirit’s knickers in a knot. The new regs also allow consumers to hold a reservation without payment or cancel a booking without penalty for 24 hours — provided the reservation is made one week or more prior to the departure date. In a press release dated January 31, 2012, Spirit posits that the new regulations regarding the 24-hour hold and no cancellation penalties will result in “unintended consequences” and cost consumers “millions” by forcing the airline to hold seat inventory for those who may not pay for it, leading to unfilled seats, and, somehow, lost American jobs. Spirit maintains that the 24-hour hold rule is consumer-friendly, “but comes at a cost all must bear.” And when Spirit says “all” it apparently means its customers.

Despite the fact that the new rules have only been in effect for a week and it’s unlikely there is hard data yet on costs to the airlines, Spirit is being proactive and has introduced the “DOTUC (Department of Transportation Unintended Consequences) fee,” a $2 each-way surcharge on the consumer.

When we tried booking a flight on Spirit, we did not see this fee listed with the rest of the taxes and fees. (Perhaps because it’s not a government-mandated fee, Spirit doesn’t have to disclose it?) Ironically, of all the extra charges that applied to our ticket, the highest by far was Spirit’s own “Passenger Usage Fee,” which you can only avoid by purchasing your ticket at the airport.

passenger usage fees


Gotta love such a consumer-friendly airline.

– written by Jodi Thompson

airport travelersAfter another year of covering the highs and lows of the travel world, we’re taking a look back at the stories that really got our readers talking — or ranting, as the case may be. Below, we count down our five most popular blog posts of 2011.

5. It’s no secret: The airlines are one segment of the travel industry that our readers love to hate. But which ones are truly the bottom of the barrel? Earlier this year, Consumer Reports put out a list of the Best and Worst Airlines. More than a dozen readers responded, including a wry Matt Leonard: “The worst airline to me is generally whatever airline I last flew.”

4. We polled our readers back in April to discover The Hotel Amenity Travelers Want Most. (Hint: The answer is something you’re more likely to find at cheap hotels than at luxury properties.) If you missed the initial vote, it’s not too late to weigh in with your own preferences in our poll.

3. Readers were up in arms over European carrier Ryanair’s plan to remove all but one toilet from its planes, which carry up to 189 people. (Can you imagine the line?) “I wonder if they will be selling ‘piddle paks’ or just ‘Depends’ in the in-flight boutique? Anything to make a profit,” quipped reader Debra in the comments. Reader Jackie said simply, “I will be voting with my feet — which will carry me to a different airline check-in.”

2. More than 550 comments poured in for our post about The Suitcase That Beats Baggage Fees. This petite powerhouse of a suitcase is sized specifically to help travelers avoid Spirit Airlines’ fee for carry-on bags (up to $40), and we gave one away to one lucky commenter. Didn’t win? You can still check out our Five Ways to Beat “A La Carte” Airline Fees.

1. Readers sick of paying big bucks for bland chain hotels flocked to Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay, in which we suggested creative alternatives like monasteries in Italy and farmstays in New Zealand. Reader nassautravellers chimed in to agree with our vacation rental suggestion: “We travel a lot around the Caribbean and most often rent vacation properties — condos, villas etc. We find this to be the most cost-effective way. Usually, the rates are cheaper per night than hotels and we can get our own groceries saving on restaurant meals (and the waistline!!).”

Which topics will get us talking in 2012? Check out our Nine Predictions for Travel in 2012.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

We’ve found a carry-on bag that does more than, er, carry. It’s a $66 bag that could pay for itself in just one flight (depending on which airline you choose) — a bag that was designed in direct response to ever-evolving airline fees and bag-size restrictions.

On most airlines, there’s an easy way to avoid baggage fees: restrict yourself to a carry-on bag only. But on ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines (one of those airlines we love to hate), you’ll have to break out your wallet no matter how efficiently you pack. The airline charges up to $45 each way for checked bags and up to $40 for carry-ons. (Even joining Spirit’s $9 Fare Club will merely reduce the fees, not waive them.) The only thing you can bring for free is a single personal item small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.

Before all you Spirit fliers start trying to jam a week’s worth of clothes into your purse, check out the luggage at CarryOn Free. Smaller than a standard carry-on bag, the CarryOn Free rolling suitcase is specifically designed to meet Spirit’s size restrictions for personal items (16″ x 14″ x 12″). Two zipper pockets help travelers stay organized and make the most of limited packing space.

carryon free



At $65.99, the bag pays for itself the first time you avoid Spirit’s carry-on fee (up to $80 roundtrip). But even better, you can win one for free. We’re giving away a tan and copper carry-on to one lucky reader who leaves a comment below. Just share your smartest packing tip in the comments by Tuesday, September 27 at 11:59 p.m. ET for a chance to win.

Editor’s Note: This giveaway has ended. Check out the winning packing tip — and get an exclusive discount to buy the CarryOn Free rolling suitcase — in Travel Tip of the Week: Why You Should Always Pack a Hat.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplanes travel planes sad suitcasesFrom the moment you book your plane ticket (want to select your seat in advance? That’ll be $10, please) to the day you roll up to the check-in counter and shell out $50 for your checked bags, the airlines leave no fee unturned. And this past weekend, most major U.S. airlines found yet another way to line their pockets at the expense of the flying public.

On Friday, Congress failed to pass legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. As of Saturday, FAA-funded construction projects have been put on hold, all non-essential employees have been furloughed and — most importantly for fliers — the agency has lost the ability to collect various taxes that normally go along with the purchase of a plane ticket.

Hurray! Cheaper airfare for everyone, right?

Well, no. Instead of passing the tax savings on to travelers, most major airlines are raising their fares to offset the cost of the taxes — and pocketing the difference. The Associated Press reports that American, United, Continental, Delta, US Airways, Southwest, AirTran and JetBlue have all increased their fares, typically by about 7.5 percent.

According to an earlier AP report, “Passengers who bought tickets before this weekend but travel during the FAA shutdown could be entitled to a refund of the taxes that they paid, said Treasury Department spokeswoman Sandra Salstrom. She said it’s unclear whether the government can keep taxes for travel at a time when it doesn’t have authority to collect the money.”

Editor’s Note: On August 5, the IRS announced that passengers will not be getting refunds for taxes paid during the FAA shutdown after all. You can read the IRS statement here.

There are a few airlines out there that are giving travelers a break, including Virgin America, Frontier, Alaska and Spirit. Yes, that’s the same Spirit we wrote about a couple of weeks ago as one of the ugliest airlines in the industry. But hey, we can give credit where it’s due. It’s nice to see Spirit making the customer-friendly choice for once.

As for the big guys, shame on them. Really, it’s no wonder we hate the airlines.



– written by Sarah Schlichter

airline airplane forbidden no fly zone signEvery airline has its haters. Maybe you’re still holding a grudge against Delta for losing your bag back in 2003, or you can’t get over that time Aeroflot literally stranded you in Siberia. In fact, the whole airline industry rated lower than the IRS in a recent U.S. customer satisfaction survey.

But in the airline hall of shame, a couple of carriers truly stand apart. Ultra-discounters Spirit Airlines (based in Florida) and Ryanair (which flies across Europe) make headlines as often for their bad behavior as for their eye-poppingly low fares. From tasteless ad campaigns to an endless parade of fees, these airlines seem to be trying to outdo each other in a race to the bottom — with no end in sight. Who’s the worst offender? We’ll let you decide.

Egregious Fees
Spirit: The airline’s most recent money-grubbing venture is a $5 fee to print your boarding pass at the airport. (Seriously? How much does a piece of paper and a little ink cost?) And it’s the only airline in the U.S. to charge not only for checked bags but for carry-ons as well. Plan on paying $18 – $43 for a first checked bag, $25 – $50 for a second and $20 – $45 for a carry-on, depending on where you’re going, how you pay for the bag (online or at the airport) and whether you’re a member of the $9 Fare Club.

Ryanair: The Irish airline imposes so many extra charges that its home page features a handy “Fees” link at the top, right between “Contact Us” and “General Conditions.” The link takes you to a lengthy chart detailing such costs as an Infant Fee (20 GBP each way), a labyrinthine system of checked baggage fees (15 – 45 GBP depending on the weight of your bag and whether you’re flying peak or off-peak) and an Administrative Fee of 6 GBP that’s charged to every booking except those paid for with a MasterCard prepaid debit card. The airline has even considered charging to use onboard toilets.

Biggest Offender: Spirit by a nose. (At least until Ryanair starts making us pay to pee.)

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Offensive Ads
Spirit: Any press is good press, right? Spirit sure thinks so. Over the years its promotions have frequently been decried in the media as tasteless or downright offensive. “We’re no Virgin! We’ve been cheap and easy for years,” proclaimed one 2009 fare sale (competing with Virgin America). More recently, the airline poked fun at the demise of the Schwarzenegger-Shriver marriage with “fares so low, you can take the whole family! Including the half-brother you just met.” But perhaps the worst offender was the following, in response to the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill:

spirit airlines check out the oil on our beaches



Ryanair: Ryanair has done its share of cheeky advertising, bringing it into frequent conflict with the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The watchdog agency banned the following 2008 ad, saying that it “appeared to link teenage girls with sexually provocative behaviour and was irresponsible and likely to cause serious or widespread offence.” Ya think?

ryanair ad hottest back to school fares



Biggest Offender: Spirit.

Bare-Bones Flights
Spirit: Forget complimentary water or peanuts — you’ll have to pay for every snack or beverage aboard a Spirit flight. And you’d better bring your own entertainment as well. Spirit offers no Internet, movies, TV or music.

Ryanair: Like Spirit, Ryanair charges for beverages and snacks, and offers no in-flight entertainment.

Biggest Offender: Tie.

Crummy Customer Service
Spirit: IndependentTraveler.com reader Richard Rosichan was a loyal frequent flier on Spirit until last year, when a poorly handled flight cancellation had him taking the airline to small claims court. Rosichan isn’t alone in his displeasure: Spirit is rated only 3.3 out of 10 on airline review site AirlineQuality.com.

Ryanair: Ryanair scores even lower on AirlineQuality.com — 2.4 out of 10, based on nearly 1,000 reviews. Disenchanted fliers can hook up with other haters at Facebook.com/ryanairsux, which currently has 505 fans.

Biggest Offender: Ryanair.

The Real Reason Fliers Hate the Airlines

Outrageous Comments by Senior Management
Spirit: CEO Ben Baldanza made waves in 2007 when he hit “reply all” instead of “reply” on a customer service complaint that had been forwarded to him, inadvertently sending the following message to both his own employees and the offended passenger: “Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.” Oops!

Ryanair: Head honcho Michael O’Leary is famous for speaking his mind, describing himself in 2006 as “just an obnoxious little bollocks” (it’s hard to disagree). He’s unapologetic about Ryanair’s business plan — “our strategy is like Walmart: we pile it high and sell it cheap” — and ruthless toward those he sees as foes, calling British Airways “overcharging rapists” and offering the following charming perspective on travel agents: “Take [them] out and shoot them. What have they done for passengers over the years?”

Biggest Offender: Ryanair.

All right, readers, let’s hear it: Which airline do you think is the ugliest of them all?



– written by Sarah Schlichter