Spirit cancels half its flights, leaving some travelers stranded at RSW

Published: August 4, 2021 11:27 AM EDT
Updated: August 5, 2021 12:59 PM EDT

Spirit Airlines canceled more than half its schedule on Tuesday, stranding thousands of passengers at the height of the summer travel season.

By early evening, it had canceled more than 400 flights, or nearly 60% of its schedule, according to the FlightAware tracking service. Nearly 100 other flights were late. The blame appeared to lie at least partly with a technology outage affecting crew scheduling.

All of Spirit’s flights into and out of Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) were showing as canceled Wednesday evening. (Check flights here.)

A Spirit spokesperson told WINK News that cancellations will start dropping Thursday, but that wasn’t helpful to travelers who arrived at RSW and found out they weren’t going anywhere any time soon.

“We didn’t hear from anybody. We didn’t get any emails, any text messages until later,” said Snow Fields.

“Very frustrating. I mean we are not happy. We are stuck. It’s delaying everything. I run a business and my business is on standstill. It’s costing us a lot of extra money just to be here and stuck here for a few extra days,” said Nelson Heskett.

Heskett’s Tuesday night flight to Detroit was canceled. The airline put him on a new flight set for Wednesday night, but when he woke up Wednesday morning, he found out that flight had been canceled, too.

“We said the heck with it. They offered to reschedule but I said no thanks. I took my refund and went through Delta and hopefully we’re leaving here tomorrow. Hopefully.”

The disruptions at Spirit are just the latest examples of airlines scrambling to deal with an increase in travel this summer. Airlines have thousands fewer employees than they did before the pandemic, but U.S. air travel has recovered to about 80% of 2019 levels.

A Spirit spokesman said the low-cost carrier was proactively canceling some flights — dropping them before most passengers drive to the airport — to “reset” the operation.

“We’re working around the clock to mitigate the travel disruptions caused by overlapping operational challenges including weather, system outages and staffing shortages in some areas of the operation,” spokesman Erik Hofmeyer said. “We’re working to provide refunds for cancellations and, when possible, to re-accommodate our guests” on other flights.

A person familiar with the situation said Spirit experienced an outage Tuesday morning affecting crew scheduling, preventing airline officials from rescheduling crews to cover gaps. The person, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said crews were stranded in many places around the country and unable to get to assigned flights.

On Monday, Florida-based Spirit scrapped more than 330 flights, or 42% of its schedule. It canceled about 20% of its flights on Sunday.

All Priscilla Aguilar wants to do is get home to Chicago.

“I’ve missed four days of work. I can lose my job over this. My friends could lose their jobs over this. And Spirit doesn’t seem to care.”

For four days, Aguilar has watched as Spirit delayed, then canceled her flights, ending her Colombian vacation on a disastrous note. In Fort Lauderdale, Spirit split up Aguilar’s group of four, sending Aguilar and a friend in a car to RSW. Now, she’s separated from her friends and stranded in an airport she never expected to visit.

“The fact that they aren’t even comp’in me. They didn’t even say sorry. Like you don’t care. We all have lives outside of this and we understand that things happen, but you didn’t even apologize.”

Frustrated, angry and exhausted, she said she doesn’t care anymore.

“To be completely frank, I would never recommend anyone to fly Spirit anymore. Because it’s just frustrating. And it’s not worth it. It ruined the trip towards the end.”

Customers who called Spirit also complained about being put on hold for hours. Airlines received $54 billion in taxpayer money to keep people employed through the pandemic but reduced staff anyway. Now they are adding call center workers and filling other jobs.

“We want to get home. I have babies and puppies at home that I want to get to,” Fields said.

“We spent a lot of money to use their services and it sucks that we had to deal with this kind of headache,” Heskett said.

After we spoke to Aguilar, she ran to catch her flight, but – you guessed it – it was delayed.

If you’re impacted by these delays and cancellations, you can ask for a refund and book a flight on another airline.

Statement from Spirit Airlines:

“The last three days were extremely difficult for our Guests and Team Members, and for that we sincerely apologize. We continue to work around the clock to get our Guests where they need to be.

“We’ve dealt with overlapping operational challenges including weather, system outages and staffing shortages that caused widespread irregularities in our operation and impacted crew scheduling. These issues were exacerbated by the fact that we are in peak summer travel season with very high industry load factors and more limited options for Guest re-accommodations.

“After working through yesterday’s proactive cancellations, we’ve implemented a more thorough reboot of the network, allowing us to reassign our crews more efficiently and restore the network faster. As a result, cancellation numbers will progressively drop in the days to come.

“By taking an in-depth look at the challenges we’re facing, we have identified opportunities for improvement that will help us operate a more resilient network and better serve our Guests.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report