Florida-based discount airline Spirit Airlines has canceled more than 2,000 flights since last Sunday, citing staffing shortages, technology problems and bad weather. But with no end in sight to the cancellations, waylaid customers are furious.
On Friday, the airline canceled more than 300 flights, over a third of Spirit’s total scheduled flights for the day. Nonetheless, on Thursday night, Spirit CEO Ted Christie told CNBC the airline will need to cancel more flights over the coming days.
Christie added that it may take until midway through next week for operations to stabilize.
Spirit Airlines Faces Perfect Storm of Challenges and Surging Demand
Many airline executives, and not just at Spirit, have been caught off guard by the sudden spike in summer travel. American Airlines, for example, has also had to cancel hundreds of flights amid inclement weather.
In Spirit’s case, that surging demand collided with staffing shortages, technical glitches and bad weather to produce a nightmare for travelers.
“There’s definitely some angry people,” Christie said on Thursday night. “Right now, all I can say is we’re very sorry for what happened.”
There had been chronic delays throughout July, causing crews to time out, or reach the maximum time they were legally allowed to work each day. They were then unavailable to staff flights that followed.
“We couldn’t get in front of it,” Christie said. He said somewhere around “tens or hundreds of thousands” of customers left stranded by the flight cancellations. As to the financial effects on the company, he said it’s too soon to tell. But this is surely the worst crisis Christie has faced since he took over as CEO in 2019.
“This is a gut punch to everyone,” the CEO said.
Stranded Customers Take to Social Media
Meanwhile, Spirit faced a torrent of fed-up customers on social media, many of whom had no other recourse for their complaints. They mentioned extra charges to book new flights, refused refunds and no compensation for stranding them other than food credits.
“My flight from FLL to EWR was cancelled three times between Friday 8/6 and today… on the phone again because my 9pm flight back home just got cancelled – I can’t afford another day at the hotel/missing work/car rental/etc,” one exasperated customer tweeted. “All I got was a sorry and food credits.”
“I was able to get a real person from @SpiritAirlines on the phone, only 4 (!) days after they canceled our flight and tried to strand us 2,000 miles from home,” another Spirit flier tweeted. “BAD NEWS: They’re claiming the canceled flight isn’t on our reservation w/ the conf. code. This should be fun.”
“@SpiritAirlines canceled our flight the night before, charged me $80 to modify my flight to get a new one so I wouldn’t miss out on my vacation and now won’t even compensate me for the modification,” yet another customer posted. “#superclassy.”
The @SpiritAirlines social media team has been in damage control mode, picking off random customers to respond to as a token gesture. But it seems to have done little to assuage Spirit customers. With flights not looking to return to normal until next week, Christie and his employees could be in for a bumpy ride.