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For Mark Chaves, nothing compares to catching waves in the sun.
“It’s really hard to explain because it’s something you have to experience,” Chaves said.
He’s an experienced surfer and his passion has led him to beaches all over the world.
“If that was almost the epicenter of your life outside of your family, you’d understand the drive to go somewhere else to be able to do it,” Chaves told NBC 6.
Three to four times a year, Chaves says he takes a group trip out of the country in hopes of finding good waves.
But his latest scheduled trip to Panama almost didn’t happen.
“We fly exclusively on Spirit, whether it’s in the Caribbean or to Central America because the prices are always very low and the flights themselves are always fine,” Chaves said.
Mark and his friends originally booked tickets to Nicaragua on June 2. Six days later, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory asking travelers to “Reconsider travel to Nicaragua due to crime, civil unrest and limited healthcare availability.”
“So I contacted Spirit to try to change our destination, staying on Spirit, paying whatever the difference would be for a flight,” Chaves said. “And they would only do it if they up-charged us the service charge.”
Chaves was asked to pay a service fee of $125 per ticket.
After speaking with two customer service representatives who offered no way to rebook without fees, he reached out to NBC 6 Responds.
“And this was a perfect example of just another big company not caring about their customers. Especially their safety,” Chaves said.
Spirit Airlines’ policy for travel advisories is to “allow Guests with existing reservations to affected regions to change their travel plans without additional rebooking cost.” An airline representative described what happened as a possible “oversight by our Guest Relations representative.”
Two days after we first reached out to Spirit Airlines, his group was able to rebook their tickets without a fee.
“It’s very nice that NBC 6 intervened and helped us with this, but the truth is Spirit should have done this on their own,” Chaves said.
Spirit Airlines told us, “We were happy to resolve this situation for our Guest and appreciate NBC 6 bringing this to our attention. We are in the process of reiterating our travel advisory policies to all of our Guest Relations representatives to ensure a similar situation does not occur in the future.”
“It’s nice that we were able to save these $125 or more for these tickets,” Chaves said.
He and his group ended up spending time surfing in Panama and is glad to put the focus back on what matters most to him.
“Surfing is a great release for emotional stress. It makes you happy,” Chaves said.
When you book a ticket it’s important to read the airlines policy on changing your destination following a State Department travel alert. Some airlines charge a rebooking fee while others’ don’t. Also, many travel insurance policies don’t include civil war as a covered event.