June 2, 2023

A Puerto Rican family traveling from Los Angeles to the island of Puerto Rico was denied travel on Spirit Airlines because the parents didn’t have a U.S. passport for their toddler. 

The parents didn’t need a passport – nor did their child – because Puerto Ricans are United States citizens and Puerto Rico is not an international destination. 

Spirit Airlines apologized to the parents immediately after CBS News reached out to the carrier looking for answers.

“In this specific case, an agent at LAX who is new to the position misunderstood the identification requirements,” it said in a statement. “We are providing the agent with additional coaching and reiterating proper procedure.”

The incident took place at Los Angeles International Airport on April 25. Marivi Roman Torres, her husband Luis and their 2-year-old son Alejandro were traveling to the island to visit family. When the family reached the ticket counter at the airport that morning, Roman Torres says the agent asked to see her and her husband’s passport.

“At first she told me this is an international flight,” Roman Torres said. “I told her no, Puerto Rico is not another country. It is a U.S. territory.”

But she and her husband showed their passports to avoid a hassle. When the agent asked for a passport for the toddler, Roman Torres says she told the agent that the boy didn’t have a passport. She says they were offered two options: accept a refund or reschedule the flight for a later date once the family could obtain a passport for the child.  

Even before that offer was made, Roman Torres says she implored both the agent and the agent’s supervisor, who had gotten involved and was aware of the situation, “Is there anyone else I can talk to? Can we call customer service together?”

She said they were “completely inflexible.”

“There was no empathy. There was just walls,” she said.

She left the Spirit Airlines counter and noticed the JetBlue counter was empty. She walked up and explained the situation then asked if there were any last-minute seats to Puerto Rico.  

There were, at a much higher price. The JetBlue employee, she remembers, told her, “that’s not needed (the passport) to go to Puerto Rico, and I’m like, ‘I know!'”

Roman Torres and her family made it to Puerto Rico, albeit at 2 a.m. with a less-than-pleased toddler, but the parents were grateful to have arrived at all.

Spirit Airlines said it has a long history of serving Puerto Rico and offers about 25 daily flights to three destinations on the island. 

“We sincerely apologize to our Guest and their family for the inconvenience, and we issued a refund for the tickets and provided them with future travel vouchers,” it said.

In an email to Roman Torres, a Spirit Airlines representative wrote, “please rest assured that your concerns have been addressed with our management team.”

Roman Torres said she appreciates Spirit’s response and the company’s efforts to make it up to her, but said she may not use the airline again. 

“I do not feel like I’m going to book with Spirit anymore,” she said.” I think that my trust was broken there on something that should not have happened.”

In a similar case this month, Hertz apologized for denying a Puerto Rican man a car because he didn’t have his passport. In that case, the man, Humberto Marchand, said he presented his Puerto Rican drivers license to an employee at a Hertz rental car counter at New Orleans’ international airport last week and was told he would need to show his passport. The employee insinuated, according to Marchand, that he was a foreigner and couldn’t rent a vehicle without showing his passport.

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