Spirit's Flight Cancellations Spark Renewed Fury at Airlines

Updated on
  • Videos show customers pushing, shoving, clashing with officers
  • Carrier joins United, American, Delta as targets of outrage

The air rage just won’t quit.

A month after United Airlines drew howls when police dragged a passenger off a flight in Chicago, tempers boiled over in Florida after a surge in flight cancellations at a discount carrier.

This time it was Spirit Airlines Inc. in the hot seat, as videos posted to social media showed passengers screaming at each other, pushing and shoving, and clashing with law-enforcement officers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The altercations started after flight cancellations Monday night.

The Spirit chaos served as the latest example of the turmoil putting the airlines in the cross hairs of public anger. American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. contended with social-media outrage from confrontations between customers and employees that were captured on video in the weeks after the United dragging incident. United’s image took another blow when a giant rabbit died as it awaited a connecting flight in Chicago.

Spirit blamed the Air Line Pilots Association for an “illegal work slowdown” that prompted 300 cancellations and the loss of $8.5 million over the past seven days, according to a lawsuit filed Monday against the labor union. The pilots’ group said its members were committed to helping the company restore operations. A federal judge in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday ordered the aviators to temporarily halt “any form of interference” with airline operations and scheduled a hearing for May 15.

Dueling Views

The carrier had 38 cancellations by Tuesday afternoon, following 65 on Monday, according to flight tracking service The shares fell 2.3 percent to $56.11 at the close in New York. Other carriers jumped as United Continental Holdings Inc. won support from one of its biggest shareholders and American signaled that it’s gaining additional control over fares.

Spirit said it was “shocked and saddened” to see videos of the events at Fort Lauderdale.

“This is a result of unlawful labor activity by some Spirit pilots designed to disrupt Spirit operations for our customers, by canceling multiple flights across our network,” the company said in a statement. “These pilots have put their quest for a new contract ahead of getting customers to their destinations and the safety of their fellow Spirit team members.”

The pilots’ union said it was committed to helping to get operations back to normal.

“The court has spoken and Spirit pilots will fully comply with the order handed down, which is completely in line with our overriding goal: the resumption of normal operations,” the labor group said in a statement. “We call on the company to join forces with ALPA and the Spirit pilots to do just that.”

Fewer Flights

Spirit has only a single daily flight to many destinations, giving it few options when it needs to accommodate passengers after cancellations. That makes it more vulnerable than larger airlines to disruptions caused by labor tensions or operational issues with its fleet.

“Airlines typically prevail in such cases and we expect a return to somewhat normal conditions relatively soon,” Savanthi Syth, an analyst at Raymond James Financial Inc., said in a note to clients Tuesday.

(Updates with union comment in 10th paragraph.)
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