FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – More than 300 Spirit Airlines flights were canceled Wednesday as the travel nightmare pressed on for another day.
With 50% of its flights wiped out for the day, the Miramar-based low-fare carrier said in a new statement that the cancellations “will progressively drop in the days to come.”
“The last three days were extremely difficult for our Guests and Team Members, and for that we sincerely apologize,” Spirit’s latest statement said in part. “We continue to work around the clock to get our Guests where they need to be. We’ve dealt with overlapping operational challenges including weather, system outages and staffing shortages that caused widespread irregularities in our operation and impacted crew scheduling.” (See Spirit’s full statement at the bottom of this story.)
Frustrations have been ratcheted up for travelers camped out at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
“It’s actually pretty scary,” one said. “I feel like we’re all vulnerable for the virus to come to us, and with all of us in such a tight space not being able to social distance, we’re all at risk.”
Fort Lauderdale’s airport is just one of many across the country dealing with stranded passengers.
A ticket and gate agent for Spirit told Local 10 News that it’s a similar scene in Newark.
“We don’t know if there’s a shortage of staff,” she said. “No one’s getting back to us. All we hear is that we’re working as hard as we can to get this resolved but nothing is being done. Nothing is being said to us.”
Spirit released its more detailed statement Wednesday after three days with little transparency about the issues.
As noon approached Wednesday, 344 Spirit flights had been canceled, according to the FlightAware tracking service. More agents did appear to be working the counters at FLL compared to the same time Tuesday morning.
Spirit canceled more than half its schedule on Tuesday, in addition to over 400 canceled flights, nearly 100 other flights were late.
Viewer-submitted cell phone video from Tuesday showed a messy scene, with areas of the airport crowded with baggage, and customers — even small children — sleeping on floors.
The blame appeared to lie at least partly with a technology outage. A person familiar with the situation said Spirit experienced an outage Tuesday morning affecting crew scheduling, preventing airline officials from rescheduling crews to cover gaps. The person, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said crews were stranded in many places around the country and unable to get to assigned flights.
The travel troubles aren’t unique to Spirit. Hundreds of American Airlines flights were also canceled Tuesday as that carrier struggled to recover from weekend storms at its Texas home, stranding thousands of passengers at the height of the summer travel season.
On Wednesday, American Airlines said it had seven cancellations out of 277 scheduled flights at Miami International Airport.
“A prolonged severe weather event in Dallas Fort-Worth on Sunday night into Monday morning brought sustained heavy rain, strong winds, lightning, microbursts and hail to our largest hub,” an American spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday. “The nine-hour weather event resulted in flight delays, cancellations and almost 100 diversions. Our team members are working around the clock to care for our customers.
“We worked throughout the day and night yesterday to reposition our aircraft and crews — many of who had timed out as a result of long delays and unexpected diversions, and we continue to see improvements to our operation today.”
The disruptions at Spirit and American are just the latest examples of airlines scrambling to deal with an increase in travel this summer. Airlines have thousands fewer employees than they did before the pandemic, but U.S. air travel has recovered to about 80% of 2019 levels.
A Spirit spokesman said the low-cost carrier was proactively canceling some flights — dropping them before most passengers drive to the airport — to “reset” the operation.
Broward County’s aviation department says it has been distributing water and snacks to those affected by these flight disruptions at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
Spirit Airlines’ full statement Wednesday said:
The last three days were extremely difficult for our Guests and Team Members, and for that we sincerely apologize. We continue to work around the clock to get our Guests where they need to be. We’ve dealt with overlapping operational challenges including weather, system outages and staffing shortages that caused widespread irregularities in our operation and impacted crew scheduling. These issues were exacerbated by the fact that we are in peak summer travel season with very high industry load factors and more limited options for Guest re-accommodations. After working through yesterday’s proactive cancellations, we’ve implemented a more thorough reboot of the network, allowing us to reassign our crews more efficiently and restore the network faster. As a result, cancellation numbers will progressively drop in the days to come. By taking an in-depth look at the challenges we’re facing, we have identified opportunities for improvement that will help us operate a more resilient network and better serve our Guests.
· Lines in airports have decreased substantially as we make progress on the re-accommodations following the cancellations.
· Team Members from different areas of the company have pitched in to expedite in various areas such as the processing of vouchers for meals and hotels
· We received questions about the AFA statement about the crew scheduling IT system. I can confirm this is one of the operational challenges we experienced.
· The rumor about a pilot strike continues to persist, but it’s completely untrue. ALPA tweeted about this as well.
· Spirit led the entire industry with the lowest percentage of cancellations in 2020. We’re learning from this disruption and will get back to our high performance levels.
· We continue to ask our Guests to check for notifications and their flight status before going to the airport.