Getting to the airport on time doesn't cut it anymore. Just ask Mayura Hooper, who missed her Spirit Airlines flight from New York's LaGuardia Airport to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands during the holidays.

She and her two children showed up 1½ hours before the departure, but she says only two Spirit representatives were staffing the counter.

"The line barely moved, and several people missed the flight," she says. Hooper was among them.

Spirit denies it was responsible. It claims its counters were adequately staffed and blames the Transportation Security Administration for a bottleneck at the security screening area, which made Hooper late.

"Delays at TSA are completely out of Spirit's control," Spirit told her in an email. "We held the flight as long as we could."

All of which brings us to today's question: Is it right for airlines to hold passengers accountable for what amounts to their own staffing problems?

Hooper was offered a refund or seats on the next flight to St. Thomas -- eight days later. She took the refund and stayed in New York.

But not everyone is so lucky. I recently wrote about a woman who missed her flight in Orlando under similar circumstances and had to pay $2,600 to fly home.

For the airline industry, here's the bottom line: You paid for a seat and didn't use it. Offering you another ticket would cost the airline money in lost revenue. Pick up any manual on airline revenue management, and it's spelled out, as it is in this book published by Ideas Revenue Optimization (Link opens PDF file).

"The travel industries in particular are plagued by the problem of 'no-shows' -- people who book inventory and then do not show up to use it (or pay for it)," it says. "The attachment of cancellation penalties to airline discount fares and the spread of 'guaranteed reservations' programs in the Hotel industry are attempts to mitigate this problem which have met with some success."

In other words, punishing passengers who don't show up for a flight -- regardless of their reasons -- is good for business.

The customer's perspective is understandably different. If passengers arrive at the airport on time, and they're delayed because of a circumstance to which an airline contributed, then why shouldn't the airline assume some responsibility for the no-show?

This, too, is a perfectly reasonable position from a passenger's point of view.

It's unusual for an airline to blame a passenger entirely for a no-show, when ticket counter staffing problems cause delays, but it happens. In the case of the woman who had to pay for a new ticket, her airline insisted she should have shown up more than two hours before her departure, and that it was essentially her fault for missing the flight. It eventually backed down and issued a credit for the extra ticket.

Spirit could have taken a much harder line in Hooper's situation. It might have classified her a "no-show" and then kept her money, anyway. But according to Hooper, there were no TSA delays when she tried to fly during the holidays, and the airline was simply playing a game of "pass the buck."

I wouldn't be surprised to see airlines take a much harder line, when it comes to no-showsÂ?even those it helped create -- in the future. Airlines need the money, and if they can find a reason to charge us, they probably will.

Should airlines hold you responsible for long lines exacerbated by inadequate staffing at the airport? Or is it your responsibility to know that during certain busy times of the year, such as holidays, you have to give yourself extra time to check in? What do you think?

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. You can read more travel tips on his blog, E-mail him at