U.S. Department of Transportation fines Spirit Airlines for mishandling passengers on overbooked flights and leaving fees out of some ads

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WASHINGTON — Spirit Airlines will be fined up to $375,000 for breaking consumer rules, the U.S. Department of Transportation said Thursday.

The DOT said Spirit broke rules in how it handled passengers bumped from overbooked flights, left some fees out of its airfare ads, and suggested in response to customer complaints that it was following government rules when it wasn’t.

The DOT also said that Spirit failed to provide a copy when asked of the government’s rule prohibiting discrimination against disabled passengers, and that it failed to keep copies of customer complaints and didn’t file reports on time.

The civil penalty includes $215,000 that the small discount airline must pay right away, and another $160,000 it would have to pay if it breaks its agreement with the Transportation Department in the next year. The DOT said Thursday its Aviation Enforcement Office will conduct a follow-up investigation of Spirit during the coming year.

Spirit did not admit or deny wrongdoing in its agreement with the government.

“We will continue to take enforcement action when airlines violate our rules,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. The DOT said the penalty is a record for violations like those found at Spirit.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Spirit told the DOT that most of the violations happened before the spring of 2008 and that it fixed the issues on its own.

“We have addressed all the core issues that caused customer experience challenges a few years ago including upgrading our computer systems and utilizing a new reservations partner,” the company said in a written statement.