Spirit Airlines and American Airlines are facing customer backlash over hourslong delays and flight cancellations.
Nearly 1-in-10 flights on American Airline’s schedule, more than 280, were canceled as of late Tuesday morning, and a whopping 42% of Spirit flights, more than 290, were also canceled, according to flight tracker FlightAware. Both airlines blamed inclement weather in Texas on Sunday for the jams.
"A prolonged severe weather event in the Dallas Fort-Worth area lasting from Sunday night into Monday morning brought sustained heavy rain, strong winds, lightning, microbursts and hail to our largest hub. The nine-hour weather event resulted in flight delays, cancellations and nearly 100 diversions," an American Airlines spokesman told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday.
Spirit said it was working to get travel back on track and placed the blame not only on the weather but also on a series of “operational challenges,” though it did not specify what those challenges entailed.
The Washington Examiner contacted Spirit on Tuesday for further details about the delays and cancellations but did not receive a response.
Videos on social media from the past couple of days show throngs of masked passengers waiting in ticketing lines and near the baggage claims of various airports. Some complained that they were stuck overnight with no change of clothes or essentials because their luggage was not able to be returned to them as they waited.
Alejandra Carrasquilla was one of the travelers temporarily snarled by the delays. She was departing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, en route to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Spirit Airlines and described the experience as “chaos.” Carrasquilla said that she waited in line for about an hour and a half just to drop off her bags and then faced hours more of waiting in the terminal after her flight was delayed five times.
“There was no organization. There was no one telling us what was happening,” she told the Washington Examiner during a Tuesday phone interview.
Carrasquilla said the energy in the airport was tense as everyone was tired and just wanted to board their flights. She said one man in the terminal became so angry about the delays that he yelled and made enough of a scene that law enforcement ended up escorting him from the terminal.
She said that, given surging cases of COVID-19, the situation was also one that could have public health implications because the area was so cramped that it was difficult to social distance and because some people weren’t wearing masks.
(Courtesy of Alejandra Carrasquilla)
Rumors soon began to swirl that Spirit was facing a pilot strike and that employees were in short supply or quitting. Spirit representative Field Sutton claimed in an email that the airline was not actually grappling with a 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,” he told WTSP.
Still, the cancellations and delays raise questions about how the two airlines are handling surging travel demand and labor shortages, which have afflicted lower-wage industries across the country in recent months.
Just a few weeks ago, Sen. Maria Cantwell, chairwoman of the commerce committee, sent letters to a half-dozen airlines pointing out that $54 billion worth of taxpayer money was given to passenger airlines to help them stay afloat and retain employees. The Washington Democrat said she feared the airlines were poorly prepared for rising travel demand after the pandemic began to wane.
“I am concerned that, at best, these airlines poorly managed ... marketing of flights and workforce as more people are traveling, and, at worst, they failed to meet the intent of taxpayer funding and prepare for the surge in travel that we are now witnessing,” Cantwell wrote.
Demand has been increasing despite a resurgence of COVID-19 prompted by the new and highly contagious delta variant. On Sunday the Transportation Security Administration screened 2.24 million people, which is the most since late February of last year, just before the pandemic began to take hold in the United States.
This isn’t the first issue of canceled and delayed flights that American Airlines has experienced since recovery from the pandemic began. In June, the airline canceled hundreds of flights because of significant staffing and maintenance issues.
“We made targeted changes with the goal of impacting the fewest number of customers by adjusting flights in markets where we have multiple options for re-accommodation,” American Airlines said in a statement at the time.
The labor shortage problem hasn’t just been with the airlines themselves but also with the TSA, which appeared overwhelmed by the deluge of travelers hoping to visit different parts of the country after getting vaccinated. It said it was looking to hire about 6,000 workers and even took the unusual step of employing $1,000 signing bonuses to lure workers.
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Original Author: Zachary Halaschak