By Josh Replogle &Terry Spencer
FORT LAUDERDALE | Irate passengers swarmed ticket counters and some started a near-riot at Fort Lauderdale’s airport after Spirit Airlines canceled nine flights, blaming the decision on pilots’ failure to show up.
Hundreds were left stranded at the airlines’ Florida terminal late Monday. The chaos was the latest instance of airlines dealing with high-profile customer frustration.
The discount airline says pilots are refusing to pick up open flying assignments, which Spirit claims is an illegal and concerted plot by the Air Line Pilots Association to apply pressure during contract negotiations. It has filed a lawsuit, saying it has had to cancel about 300 flights nationally and internationally over the past week.
Another 36 were canceled Tuesday.
Spirit spokesman Paul Berry issued a statement apologizing to customers and saying the company is “shocked and saddened” by the Fort Lauderdale melee.
“We believe this is the result of intimidation tactics by a limited number of our pilots affecting the behavior of the larger group,” Berry said.
The union has denied the accusation, but said in a statement that its members will obey the judge’s order with the goal of helping Spirit resume normal operations.