Lines are longer than usual. Hundreds of flights have been delayed or canceled during the past week. By Monday, frustrations boiled over for Spirit Airlines passengers in Fort Lauderdale.
Police were called to quell fights that had broken out there between upset fliers and beleaguered airline employees. Videos posted by passengers showed a chaotic scene, with authorities doing their best to separate fighting fliers.
The Monday evening incident erupted after Spirit Airlines abruptly canceled nine different flights, according to CBS News. But problems had been building at the carrier for the past week, with CNN saying nearly 300 Spirit flights have been canceled during that period.
What’s the problem? Spirit Airlines filed a suit Monday against its pilot union, alleging “an unlawful job action by Spirit pilots.”
Spirit said the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and some of its members are “purposely and unlawfully disrupting the airline’s operations."
In its suit, Spirit accused the union of being "engaged in a pervasive illegal work slowdown that has caused approximately 300 flight cancellations and has disrupted the travel plans of over 20,000 customers. ... The Spirit pilots’ concerted refusal to accept junior assignments or pick up open time flying has dramatically impacted Spirit’s operations leading to cancellations throughout its system, and most particularly for flights departing from Fort Lauderdale, Chicago-O’Hare, Detroit, and Las Vegas."
Spirit suggested the effort was an attempt by the union to affect contract negotiations.
“We are disappointed that ALPA has decided to engage in this unlawful slowdown,” Spirit spokesman Paul Berry said in a statement to USA TODAY’s Today in the Sky blog. “This has led to canceled flights and prevented our customers from taking their planned travel, all for the sole purpose of influencing current labor negotiations. So we reluctantly filed this suit to protect our customers’ and our operations.”
“This is clearly unlawful activity under the Railway Labor Act, which governs labor relations in the airline industry,” Berry added in the statement. “ALPA and those individuals responsible should be held accountable.”
ALPA denied the allegations, saying in a statement to CBS News that Spirit's suit is "unwarranted and counterproductive legal action."
In the meantime, Spirit is now left to deal with a public relations debacle that’s resulted from videos and social media rants stemming from the spate of flight disruptions.
It all comes as the airline industry remains under an intense customer-service spotlight in the wake of an April 9 passenger-dragging incident on a United Express flight from Chicago. Since then, numerous incidents on several carriers have made national headlines. Among those were a flight attendant allegedly yanking a stroller from a mother holding a baby, a family being kicked off a flight from Hawaii over a dispute about a child’s ticketed seat, and the mysterious death of a giant rabbit – a contender to become the world’s largest – that was being transported on a flight.
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