The summer of major flight woes continues, leaving Spirit Airlines passengers the latest to be stranded.
The Florida-based budget carrier canceled 277 flights Monday, or 36% of its scheduled flights, on top of 165 canceled flights Sunday, according to flight tracker FlightAware. Flight delays are also an issue, with 159 so far Monday and 342 on Sunday.
Passengers reported waiting hours in line for refunds and other customer service help at airports in cities including Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Some stranded travelers camped out.
“It looked like a hurricane shelter,” passenger Rebecca Osborn said of Spirit’s counters at Orlando International Airport.
Spirit Airlines spokesman Erik Hofmeyer blamed the flight cancellations on weather and unspecified operational challenges, a common refrain from airlines including Southwest and American this summer. (American has its own woes Monday, canceling 429 flights, or 14% of scheduled flights, and delaying hundreds more as it struggles to recover from Sunday storms at its massive Dallas hub.)
“We’re working around the clock to get back on track in the wake of some travel disruptions over the weekend due to a series of weather and operational challenges,” Hofmeyer said via email. “We needed to make proactive cancellations to some flights across the network, but the majority of flights are still scheduled as planned.”
Travelers with Spirit flights are urged to check their email and flight status before heading to the airport. McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, where Spirit has been growing, issued an alert via Twitter Monday.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents Spirit’s flight attendants, said in a statement that the operational issues were due to weather and technology outages, among other issues.
What is was not about, the union said: a worker strike, as some have speculated.
“A few news outlets have incorrectly reported that this may be due to a strike. This is not true. There is no flight attendant strike. Crews are not the issue,” the union said.
Delay, delay, delay and then a Spirit flight cancellation
Osborn and her boyfriend, Eddie Gordon, were trying to get home to Philadelphia after a vacation in San Juan, Puerto Rico. They arrived at the airport around 2 p.m. Sunday for their 5:30 p.m. flight and were greeted with a long flight delay. Then another delay. And another.
“First, they said it was weather, then they said we don’t have enough staff,” Gordon said.
At midnight, the flight was canceled, and passengers from that flight and others were sent to a chaotic baggage claim area to retrieve their bags.
Gordon wanted a refund for the flight rather than to be rebooked on another Spirit flight and was told the only way to do that was to get in line. He got in the already-snaking line just after midnight.
“There were people everywhere: little kids, old people,” Gordon said. “They never came out and gave any type of explanation or offered anything.”
Gordon said he didn’t emerge from the line until 9:30 a.m. EDT Monday.
Their refund amount was written on a yellow sticky note attached to one of their boarding passes, but when they received email confirmation from Spirt later Monday they had received vouchers. They already bought tickets on Southwest to fly to Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Hofmeyer said he doesn’t know the specifics of Gordon and Osborn’s overnight experience but said it seemed “out of the ordinary.” Spirit has a variety of ways for travelers to reach the airline, including its reservations center, WhatsApp and text, he said.
Osborn and Gordon said they tried text and phone and were greeted with long waits or, in the case of the text option, no option to select a refund.
Hold, please: Airline customer service hold times skyrocket
Hofmeyer said Spirit is adding a chat function on its website to handle flight changes, credits and refunds and said it would be in operation Monday.