Spirit Airlines Passengers Revolt At Fort Lauderdale Airport, Start Brawl After Flight Cancellations

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Spirit Airlines operations this week were disrupted by a massive amount of cancellation that are rumored to be the product of pilot labor action and the patience of passengers came to an end.

After seeing themselves confronted with further cancellations and delays, Spirit passengers at Ft. Lauderdale airport stormed to the ticket counter and started to shout and push.

Police had to be called in to bring the situation back under control and to prevent violence in the worst case as tensions were running high.

CNN (see here) had a report last night about the situation at FLL airport.

Screams and commotion took over Fort Lauderdale’s airport Monday as travelers clashed with Spirit Airlines employees and police.

About 300 Spirit flights have been canceled over the past seven days, leaving thousands of passengers angry. The airline says its own pilots are behind the cancellations and is suing them in federal court.

Passengers across the country faced hours-long delays and flight cancellations for days. By Monday night, some travelers in Florida had enough.The front ticket counter at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport turned into chaos, and Broward County deputies stepped in to try to restore the peace between passengers and airline employees.

Travelers stormed off an airplane after their flight was canceled and swarmed the ticket counter, where dozens of passengers were already waiting in line, passengers told CNN.

“Everyone was already aggravated about flight delays and the ridiculousness of standing in such a long line for hours, which Spirit Airlines did nothing to help, and then in walks these people off their flight raising a ruckus (and) cussing and screaming and they went straight to the counter,” passenger Cindy Matthews Beard told CNN.

Video footage shows deputies struggling with travelers. Some were pulled aside from the crowd, while others were taken to the ground and placed in handcuffs. Three passengers were taken into custody, according to Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

Airlines in the U.S. had to fight a barrage of bad press for the known reasons in the past few weeks/months and patience of the customers must be at an all time low.

Here is a Youtube video of the situation inside the terminal building:

All things considered though it appears that the cancellations aren’t just operational problems within Spirit Airlines but rather the result of a pilot shortage and possible labor action of Spirit pilots.

Spirit has sued the union representing their pilots accusing them of slowing down operations as the CNN article mentions.

Spirit Airlines spokesman Paul Berry said the company was “shocked and saddened” to see the events at the Fort Lauderdale airport and blamed its pilots.

“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,” Berry said in a statement.

In a federal lawsuit, the airline says cancellations have been caused by pilot unavailability and is accusing the pilots’ union — the Airline Pilots Association, International (ALPA) — of orchestrating an unlawful slowdown.

There are always two sides to every story. I’m sure Spirit isn’t the completely innocent participant in this disaster.


Situations such as these, cancellations due to pilot shortage/timeout while passengers are already on board is something that would rarely happen with carriers outside the U.S. and it doesn’t help that passengers there are very thin skinned in the current climate.

Unreliable operation, entitled employees and grotesque customer treatment has thrown U.S. carriers into one PR disaster after another. I’d be surprised if such a scene is the last we’re going to see.

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  • Mike

    1. Look at the video. Problem is the customer
    2. $49.95 tickets…..there will be some problems. My daughter flew atlanta to new orleans last summer…$50.

  • Siwusa

    People like this should be banned from using ANY sort of public transport.

  • studd

    The CEO is right there in FLL he should have overseen the situation personally. Stand up and be a leader.
    Treating your customers poorly no matter how little they pay is not a good biz practice. Spirt did things purposely to worsen the lines and waiting for those passengers.

  • Charles Grimes

    “Spirit Airlines spokesman Paul Berry blamed its pilots.

    “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.”

    Wow, I’m [not] shocked… don’t claim any responsibility, instead blame labor and a labor union.

    Newsflash… Spirit is an extreme low cost carrier (in case the carry-on bag fee wasn’t a big enough clue). Extreme low cost carriers stay afloat by maximizing revenue (like bag fees) and minimizing costs (like labor).

    Airlines need pilots to fly the lines that make up all the trips. The problem is, airlines need to factor in vacation, average sick time (pilots get sick and some issues prevent them from flying until resolved), training, and duty limits: there are regulatory limits per day (8 hours), 7-days (30-hours), 30-days (100 hours), and an annual limit of 1000 hours and those are flying hours. In addition to flying hour limits, there is a rest requirement calculated prior to each flight where there must be a minimum of 9 hours rest in the previous 24 hours. Rest does not equal sleep, rest is time away from the airplane and includes the ride to and from the hotel.

    What all this means is that airlines have to hire more pilots than they need to fill the lines, and keep them in reserve while paying them a minimum, usually 70 – 75 hours/month. Oh yeah, pilots are paid by the hour (calculated to the 1/100th of an hour). The reserve pilots take up the slack. Airlines “save” money by 1) reducing the number of reserve pilots to the barest of minimums (sort of the reverse of overbooking), and 2) unless the contract restricts or forbids, calling in pilots on their scheduled day(s) off to fly when there aren’t sufficient reserves.

    Why is this relevant? Spirit is accusing it’s pilots and ALPA of an unlawful work slowdown. Well, a true slowdown is unlawful — I suggest you cure insomnia by reading the Railway Labor Act [yes, I said “railway”] which -spoiler- is designed to keep the railroads (and air carriers) operating and making “self-help” (strikes and lockouts) very difficult for either party to implement. A work slowdown would/could be unlawful… unless of course all that was happening is that the pilots actually followed the rules, both company and FAA, to the letter.

    Newsflash–Pilots are generally concerned with getting their passengers and fellow crew to their destination both on-time and SAFELY. There are rules and regulations that must be followed, but sometimes the rules are bent a bit (not broken, just bent) in order to maintain safety, but improve the passenger experience. Fly faster than planned to make up a delay. Beg better routing to shorten distance. Fly when a bit under the weather, because not flying might impact the schedule. I could go on. Is strict adherence to all the rules a slowdown? Yeah, maybe. Is it unlawful. Uh, wait a minute–you want to accuse me of doing something illegal because I chose to follow the rules you mandate that I follow? Uh, good luck with that.

    There may be a labor dispute at Spirit over the terms of a new contract, and (I’m guessing, but I’ve been a line pilot during contract negotiations) they may have chosen to follow the rules to the letter and that may have resulted in a perceived pilot shortage which was in all likelihood caused by Spirit’s hiring and staffing practices, but Spirit’s management is not “clean”.

    Then there are the passengers. Wow!

  • Malcolm

    Sebastian notes that these airline/ passenger treatment issues are happening in the US and not elsewhere. Why is that?

  • Bats

    Wow. This is an underdeveloped country…

  • Heather Edwards

    How about gross customer behavior?? I mean, really, this is ridiculous people. Americans are embarrassing themselves around the world with their terrible behavior.