Q: My husband, 2-year-old son and I recently flew from Chicago to Phoenix on Spirit Airways. Before we took off, a flight attendant approached our seat to tell us that there was a problem with one of the seats, and that another passenger couldn’t use his seat. We were offered a refund of our son’s ticket and a free round-trip voucher if we would hold our son on our lap in order to free a seat for the gentleman whose seat was not usable.
We agreed to this, and the flight attendant and gate agent (who had boarded the plane to help resolve the situation) told us that we should talk with the gate agents when we landed in Phoenix to claim our refund and free voucher.
When we landed, we approached the gate agents. It was 1 a.m. and there weren’t many people working. A Spirit employee advised us to call the customer service number to figure out everything about our tickets. Because it was so late and there was no one else with whom we could speak, and we were traveling with an exhausted toddler, we accepted this.
The next evening I called the customer service line and was informed by a supervisor that there was no record of the transaction. In fact, the supervisor chastised me and told me that because he was over 24 months old it was against FAA regulations to hold him on our lap (which we knew, which was why we bought him a ticket). We were eventually told to go back to the airport and try to speak with staff there to resolve this issue.
We tried speaking with Spirit on our return flight, but it was impossible to find someone who could help us. We’ve also tried sending e-mails. Can you persuade Spirit to keep its word?
A: Your story is troubling on many levels. First, there’s the problem of asking you to keep your 2-year-old on your lap. The safest place for your son is in his own seat, and preferably strapped into a car seat. Most airlines require that kids older than 2 have their own seats, so if the tables had been turned, which is to say you showed up for a flight without a ticket for your son, then the airline might have forced you to pay for another ticket.
How could you have avoided this? It’s not easy. If you could do an instant replay, you might have asked for some kind of assurance in writing.
I contacted Spirit on your behalf. It refunded your seat and sent you the voucher it had promised.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com.