Three former Spirit Airlines employees at Philadephia International Airport stand accused of defrauding the ultra-low-cost carrier out of more than $283,000 by abusing a special ‘Penny Fare’ scheme that allows passengers to buy the cheapest fares directly at the airport ticket counter.
The fraud was made possible because Spirit gives its customer service supervisors the ability to modify reservations without charging customers for the additional cost that would normally charged for these ticket changes.
Spirit gave its airport supervisors the ability to make these changes for extenuating circumstances only – like the death of a close family member of the passenger – but former Spirit employee Taylor Thompson is accused of using these privileges in a sophisticated money-making fraud.
The fraud worked by Thompson ‘recruiting’ passengers who would book a cheap ‘Penny Fare’ ticket at the airport for a flight they didn’t want to fly. Thompson would then use his flight modification privilges to amend the itinerary to a flight the passengers actually wanted to fly but waived the fees for this flight change.
Thompson stands accused of then charging the passengers a commission for this service which he would then pocket.
For example, in one alleged dummy booking in 2018, Taylor’s login details were used to book roundtrip flights on the short hop from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The next day, the return date was changed, and around a week later, the departure airport was changed from Los Angeles to Philadephia.
The fare difference was nearly $160 per passenger, but Spirit never received payment for this amended itinerary.
In another case, a cheap flight from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale was booked but minutes later the reservation was changed so that the departure airport was Philadelphia.
On this occasion, the fare difference was nearly $185 per passenger.
A short time into starting the scheme, Taylor is accused of recruiting two Spirit Airlines customer service agents who he worked with at Philadephia Airport. Investigators allege that Tiana Fairfax and Theodore Robinson even used their own credit cards to occasionally book tickets before amending the itineraries.
Over the course of the scheme, the three defendants are accused of modifying more than 1,700 flight reservations where ticket change costs were fraudulently waived.
Thompson, however, was sacked by Spirit in 2018 and an investigation was eventually ordered after Fairfax and Robinson allegedly approached their new supervisor to continue to scheme.
“Supplementing your paycheck by scamming your employer is a criminally bad career move,” commented Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division after the indictment was unsealed.
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.