A former airline employee has been found guilty of stealing the personal details of his colleagues in order to obtain thousands of dollars worth of flights with Spirit Airlines for free. Hubbard Bell, 32, of Houston has been sentenced to two and half years imprisonment and ordered by a United States District Judge to pay Spirit Airlines $150,000 in restitution after investigators identified nearly 2,000 flights connected to the scam.
Bell had worked for Mesa Airlines, a regional carrier that operates flights on behalf of American and United, for just five months up to October 2015 before embarking in the criminal enterprise. During his short tenure at the airline, he had been offered free concessional tickets with Spirit Airlines which is a benefit offered to many airline employees.
In order to book a free ticket, all Bell had to do was input his personal identifying information and a unique verification code into an online booking system and then show his employee ID at the airport. But after Bell left Mesa Airlines, he continued to book free flights using his old employee details and airline ID.
Investigators believe Bell booked around 34 fraudulent flights for himself but the scam didn’t end there. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald concluded Bell stole unauthorized information of Mesa employees which included their names, dates of hire, and employee identification numbers in order to book more free flights for numerous other people.
And to make the scam work, Bell even manufactured and sold fraudulent Mesa employee identification cards for use by the fake airline employees.
Investigators believe Bell and five other suspects booked 1,953 fraudulent flights between February 2016 to November 2017. In total, the loss to Spirit was calculated at around $150,000.
Bell was eventually arrested by the FBI following an investigation that included the federal air marshal service and TSA. The other suspects will go on trial on April 13 after pleading not guilty.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.