What the Hell Is Going on Over at Spirit Airlines?
A breakdown of an airline-industry breakdown
Let’s face it: Spirit has never been a frontrunner where airline customer service is involved. And to be fair, they’re a budget airline. As a wise man once prophetically proclaimed, “You get what you pay for.” That said, even Spirit’s own history of less-than-stellar customer service pales in comparison to whats gone down so far this week. But there’s a lot to unpack here so, in the event that this is news to you, heres what you need to know to get up to speed.
According to Flightaware, Spirit has just finished out its third consecutive day of more than half of all of its scheduled flights being either canceled or delayed, leaving thousands of passengers stranded nationwide. On Sunday, 60% percent of all flights were disrupted in some capacity, and on Monday, that number increased to 71%. On Tuesday, 79 flights were canceled at the Orlando International Airport alone. The reason? Well, it’s actually kind of hard to say.
The blunder in service, as told by the airline to CNN Travel, is due to a handful of variables: “overlapping operational challenges including weather, system outages and staffing shortages in some areas.” Conversely, though, all of Tuesday’s flights were reportedly canceled in an attempt to proactively “reset” said operations, Spirit spokesman Field Sutton said in a statement. That said, it is unclear how stranding additional passengers would assist in performing any sort of reset, since that will likely just create a logjam of angry customers trying to book new flights in the subsequent days.
In a report published by Live and Let’s Fly on Wednesday evening, Matthew Klint wrote “unconfirmed reports of riots and bedlam have been reported in both Puerto Rico and Florida,” with one Twitter user claiming (in a now-deleted tweet) that “[passengers were] breaking computers, attempting to break the jet bridge door, and assaulting gate agents. 25 crew members [were] huddled in a ramp break room waiting for SWAT to escort them away. Crews [were] urged to change clothes to avoid detection. Tempers [were] flaring at [Orlando] and [Fort Lauderdale] as well.” And while the story was shared by the Association of Flight Attendants and a second report from View from the Wing corroborates the account, neither source offers little more in the way of additional details, largely due to the fact that there aren’t any at this time.
In another rumor fueled by social media, news spread that the staffing crisis is a result of an ongoing pilot strike, though Spirit has since denied that claim, with Sutton saying in an email, “There is no strike. I’m aware of the rumor of a pilot strike, but it’s 100% false. We have a fantastic team of pilots working very hard during this busy travel season.”
What we can confirm definitively is that it is totally feasible that they are just severely understaffed. Another Twitter user, Aviation enthusiast JonNYC, speculated that it might be a matter of scheduler shortages. Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, blamed pilot shortages and strict scheduling that inhibits pilots from being able to help airlines out in times of crisis. While they might not be at the level of Spirit’s current crisis, many airlines are currently suffering similar issues, with some taking a similar course of action and canceling flights, and others soliciting volunteers from the corporate level to help out around airports — many of which stem from the pandemic and the sudden uptick in travel in recent months.
So, in summation, Spirit has canceled an exorbitant number of flights in the past three days and has not been nearly as proactive in notifying customers of delays or cancellations as they should have been. That said, neither a passenger uprising nor a pilot strike have been confirmed in any official capacity. Passengers are displeased, but it doesn’t appear that it’s (yet) resulted in any sort of violence or looting. Airlines are suffering under the weight of increased demand and at the hands of staffing shortages, so if you happen to be flying Spirit this week, may the odds be ever in your favor.
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