Thousands of passengers have been left stranded all across the country as Spirit Airlines and some other carriers have canceled hundreds of their flights throughout the country over the last week. Often leaving passengers’ travel plans in shambles and forcing them to spend hundreds of dollars on unforeseen hotel stays or new flights, a chaotic situation that is being repeated in dozens of airports all around the nation.
The airline suffered a complete operational meltdown last week, reaching an extremely high 60% of canceled lights last Wednesday and 51% on Thursday. American Airlines also faced a significant amount of canceled flights last week, with the airline canceling up to 350 flights during one day, although American managed to get their numbers under control in a speedier manner than Spirit.
According to a press release by Spirit Airlines’ CEO Ted Christie, the cancellations come after a “month’s worth of tough operating conditions in July”, saying that what initially started with “weather and its associated delays” eventually led to more crew members getting “dislocated’ and “unable to fly their trips.
Although the mindboggling number of Spirit cancellations has since subsided, with the airline reporting 16 canceled flights on Tuesday, the effects of the more than 2,000 flights canceled since July 31st will surely be a headache for both stranded passengers, who had to pay a significant economic cost on their unexpected delays, and the public image of Spirit Airlines as a company. Especially since other airlines did not have the same issue with widespread flight cancellations.
The companies’ meltdown has now been reportedly being investigated by the Department of Transportation, according to sources close to the DOT quoted by American travel site TPG. With the DOT allegedly reviewing if the airline is complying with federal regulations on its response to the customers affected by the massive disruptions.
Spirit Airlines cancellation spree, left passengers in the limbo
The cancelation spree left passengers with a few terrible options. One angry customer told USA Today that Spirit Airlines kept postponing her flight back home for five days, forcing her to spend $1,600 in hotels in New York due to the extended delay and that the airline had only offered a “goodwill voucher” of $50 one exchange for the troubles caused by the constant cancellations.
Nur Bahsas, an undergraduate student from the University of South Florida who had planned a weekend trip to Houston got her flight canceled on Sunday and Tuesday. The airline canceled her initial flight without clearly announcing what had just happened, she then had to wait three long hours to even talk to a Spirit representative who gave her the choice to either reschedule the flight for Tuesday or get a refund (which would not cover a new flight to Tampa), she chose the latter.
While she did not spend extra money on lodging, she had to pay a $135 Uber from the airport to her family’s house, which can turn out to be pretty expensive for a college student’s budget. Spirit also canceled her Tuesday flight, so she decided to buy a new ticket from United Airlines, which was enough to take her back home. In exchange for all her troubles, Spirit gave her a $50 voucher for a new flight and a $28 dining voucher as well.
Why did this happen?
According to the Atlanta Journal Consitution, Spirit Airlines increased its fight schedules significantly during the COVD-19 pandemic in order to enhance its market position. However, the company has not hired enough staff to keep up with its ambitious schedule, which has caused many cancellations throughout the country, the Wall Street Journal reported that Spirit’s decision of not going aggressive enough when the issues started last week only made things worst.
Spirit, just like all major airlines last year, received a significant infusion of bailout money from the federal government. The carrier agreed to receive almost $330 million, with the money aimed at funding the payroll of its almost 9,000 staff members, although the airline was then forced to provide some leaves of absence to some of their workforce as the demand for flights plummeted in 2020.
Despite the airline targeting a new round of hires for 2021, it is evident that the airline has yet to recover its operational standing from pre-pandemic years. According to an article by Fox Business, it is hard for Spirit to rebound from its cancellations due to its business model, the fact it does not fly many planes per route, and that it does not have the ability to accommodate passengers in other airlines.
Whether Spirit manages to recover from last week’s cancellation mayhem and restore its operational capacity fully and the customer’s confidence remains to be seen.