FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Two men and a woman were arrested late Monday night after chaos broke out near the Spirit Airlines ticket counter at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Cellphone video showed Broward Sheriff's Office deputies trying to break up an apparent altercation between two women. Deputies grabbed one of the women and forced her to the floor before handcuffing her.
According to reports, tensions flared shortly after nine flights were canceled because some pilots refused to fly.
The three people who were taken to jail are accused of threatening violence against Spirit employees and inciting the crowd of about 500 angry customers.
Desmond Waul, 22, Janice Waul, 24, and Devante Garrett, 22, face charges of inciting or encouraging a riot, disorderly conduct, resisting an officer and trespassing after receiving a warning.
The siblings, who are from New York, told Local 10 News after they were released from jail that they were in town celebrating Janice Waul's birthday and needed to return home for her graduation.
They said Spirit Airlines employees treated them poorly, canceled their flight and then re-booked them on another flight that they ended up canceling, as well.
They said they were arrested after getting into it with a Spirit Airlines employee who cussed them out after they requested to speak with a manager.
"You guys had security handle us like we were animals, all on camera," Desmond Waul said. "That's my sister. She's a girl. That's my brother. You can't be touching us like that."
The siblings said there was no fight at the airport and that they were unsure when they will be able to return home or on what airline.
"I was upset and they tried to say that I started a riot for being upset," Janice Waul said. "This is my first time being arrested in my life, and I have a college degree, so this is ridiculous."
Passengers who spoke to Local 10 News reporter Layron Livingston said they had all reached a boiling point.
"People were fighting the police, people (were) arguing with the people back there. Look, I don't care about none of that. I just want to go home," Latreece Smith said.
Smith and her friend were supposed to fly out Monday night to Chicago, until they got stuck in line at the ticket counter for three hours. She said they were forced to spend the night at the airport.
"Between Spirit and the customers, and then it became customers against customers, and then it became cops against customers. So I'm like, 'What's going on?'" Timari Cameron, who also spent the night at the airport, said.
Another passenger said she was to supposed to fly out Tuesday morning to attend her great-grandmother's funeral.
"My great-grandmother passed away. So, now it's like I'm not going to get there in time," Toni Clark said.
Clark said the airline rescheduled her to fly out on Wednesday.
"Hopefully, I don't have any problems on the way back," she said.
Spirit blamed the Air Line Pilots Association for the cancelations.
"We are shocked and saddened to see the videos of what took place at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport this evening," the Miramar-based airline said in a statement. "This is a result of unlawful activity by some Spirit pilots designed to disrupt Spirit operations for our customers, by canceling multiple flights across our network. 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. It is for this reason, Spirit has filed suit in federal court to protect our customers' future travel."
However, the union told Local 10 News in a statement Tuesday morning that the pilots it represents "are not engaged in a job action."
"Rather, ALPA and the Spirit pilots are continuing to do everything possible to help restore the company's operations, which have experienced significant problems over the past several days," the statement said. "While we will continue these efforts, we will actively defend the association, its officers and its member pilots against the unwarranted and counterproductive legal action brought (Monday) evening by Spirit Airlines."
A federal judge has sided with the carrier and ordered its unionized pilots to stop boycotting flights.
District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas issued the order Tuesday, saying Spirit likely would win its lawsuit charging that the union was engaged in work slowdowns that violated federal law.
Spirit Airlines spokesman Paul Berry apologized about the chaos in a statement to the airlines' customers.
"We sincerely apologize to our customers for the disruption and inconveniences they have suffered," he said. "We are hopeful that we can put this moment behind us and get back to serving our customers."
The airline reports that it is averaging 39 cancelations daily, down from 60 cancelations a day over the weekend.
Spirit said it has offered the union a 30 percent increase, but pilots are demanding more money.
The airline hopes to have things running smoothly within the next 48 to 72 hours.
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