Spirit Airlines fee challenged; India ban in tiger reserves

Spirit fee challenged

Lots of travelers grouse about Spirit Airlines’ ancillary fees, but one traveler is taking his complaints to a higher set of ears — the federal courthouse.

Last week, the Florida firm Podhurst Orseck, P.A., filed a lawsuit on behalf of Bryan Ray, a New Jersey passenger who is contesting the legality of the carrier’s passenger usage fee. According to the filing in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the plaintiff is seeking to “recover monetary damages, restitution and injunctive relief” because of the airline’s “fraudulent, deceptive and unconscionable collection of a Passenger Usage Fee.”

“This is a way for Spirit to make more profits without providing any goods or services in return,” said Katherine Ezell, a partner with Podhurst Orseck. “It was deliberately planned to deceive the public in the way that it is named and tucked in with other viable fees.”

According to Misty Pinson, an airline spokeswoman, the carrier adds the fee to reservations booked on its Web site or over the phone. The charge on domestic and international flights is $8.99 to $16.99 per customer, each way. The fee is waived on purchases made at the airport ticket counter.

“Spirit believes the claims are without merit,” Pinson said, “and intends to defend the case.”

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Though the case is in its early stage — the firm is awaiting Spirit’s response — Ezell said that potentially 5 million to 20 million people could qualify for the class-action suit. To qualify as a plaintiff, a traveler must have flown between 2008 and 2011; Spirit, however, levied the fee on and off during the four-year time span, so not all travelers will be eligible. However, affected individuals could recoup their initial outlay, a welcome payback for frequent fliers.

“If one person has flown 100 times,” said Ezell, “they will get 100 payments of the fee.”

For more information, contact the law firm at www.podhurst.com.

India’s tiger tourism nixed

In an effort to protect India’s big cats, the country’s Supreme Court has temporarily banned all tourism activities in the core sections of tiger reserves nationwide. Buffer and fringe areas, however, remain open.

“This is in sync with our national wildlife policy,” said Nuggehalli Jayasimha, director of India Humane Society International. The animal activist said that the law simply extends a ban prohibiting villagers from accessing these fragile habitats.

More than half the world’s tiger population — an estimated 1,706 cats — lives in India. The endangered animals inhabit the forests of 17 Indian states and nearly 40 reserves.

The ban falls during monsoon season, when the parks are closed. Lawmakers will revisit the issue on Aug. 22, when they could lift the ruling and ease in less stringent regulations.

“It’s really a good thing,” said Josh Cohen, director and president of Wild Planet Adventures, an international wildlife tour operator. “The goal is to keep the tigers living and breeding. We all want that.”

Cohen expects that the court will resolve the issue before the parks reopen in late October and early November. As a backup, however, he has drafted alternative itineraries to different wildlife parks in India, as well as a ban-free tiger reserve in Nepal.

Andrea Sachs (not the one who wears Prada) has been writing for Travel since 2000. She travels near (Ellicott City, Jersey Shore) and far (Burma, Namibia, Russia), and finds adventure no matter the mileage. She is all packed for the Moon or North Korea, whichever opens first.

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