Spirit Airlines CEO on cancellations leaving people with nowhere to go: "It's heart-wrenching"

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CBS News 06 August, 2021 - 06:31pm 79 views

Why did Spirit cancel so many flights?

Spirit has canceled nearly 2,000 flights nationwide since Sunday, according to USA Today. The airline has cited a variety of factors for its operational problems, including weather, staffing shortages and technical issues. The Indianapolis StarHow Spirit Airlines' nationwide flight cancellations have affected Indianapolis

Does Spirit Airlines give refunds?

We do not offer refundable fares – it helps us to keep prices low for all of our passengers. But you can change or cancel a reservation anytime via the My Trips tab on Spirit.com. spirit.comDoes Spirit offer refundable fares? · Spirit Support

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'We couldn't get in front of it.' Spirit Airlines CEO explains what caused the carrier's meltdown

CNBC 06 August, 2021 - 08:50pm

The causes of Spirit Airlines' massive flight cancellations that derailed the summer vacations of tens of thousands of customers this week have been brewing for more than a month, CEO Ted Christie said.

A combination of flight delays throughout July, staffing shortages, technology problems and a surge in travel that has taken most airline executives by surprise culminated with more than 2,000 flights canceled since the weekend, some days accounting for more than half of Spirit's schedule.

And trouble isn't over for travelers. Christie said the carrier needs to cancel additional flights, although he said operations are improving and will return to normal by the middle of next week.

More than 300 flights, more than a third of Spirit's schedule, were canceled on Friday, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware.

"There's definitely some angry people," Christie told reporters Thursday night. "Right now, all I can say is we're very sorry for what happened."

The chaos enraged stranded customers at airports and sparked furious messages online, presenting Christie with one of his biggest tests since he became CEO on New Year's Day 2019.

"This is a gut punch to everyone," Christie said.

Chronic delays throughout July snowballed, leading to staffing shortages as crews timed out, reaching the maximum time they could legally work each day, he said. It became dramatically worse over the weekend and in the days that followed.

"We couldn't get in front of it," Christie said. He estimated that "tens or hundreds of thousands" of customers were affected by Spirit's disruptions and said it is too early to estimate financial impact to the company.

On Thursday alone Spirit canceled 450 flights, 56% of its operation.

Spirit, unlike large network airlines, does not have so-called interline agreements, which allow a carrier to book its passengers on another airline during severe disruptions.

A sharp rebound in summer travel has created headaches for summer travelers as airlines and their contractors faced staffing shortages coupled with the usual disruptive summer storms. American Airlines had a cascade of cancellations earlier this week triggered by severe thunderstorms that hit its Dallas/Fort Worth International Hub and subsequent staffing shortages.

Miramar, Florida-based Spirit has improved its reliability in recent years and in 2017, it turned to Walt Disney's leadership and professional training subsidiary, the Disney Institute, to help improve customer service.

"We are going to do everything we can to earn back the confidence of our guests and the traveling public. We believe we can do that," Christie said on the call Thursday. He said the airline is giving affected customers cash refunds.

In hindsight, Spirit should have canceled more flights earlier to give it time to recalibrate, Christie said. Instead the airline tried to maintain flights to cater to large numbers of customers, many of them flying for the first time since the pandemic began.

The airline last month forecast it would fly almost 11% more in the third quarter compared with the same period of 2019, a much bigger rebound than most airlines.

Christie said he and other executives are examining how to add more backup staffing, faster responses to operational hiccups and better technology.

"We're beginning to turn the corner and get our legs under us where we can start to build back to where we were before," Christie said.

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Spirit employee describes working amid the airline's hellish meltdown, with crying crew members, screaming customers, and desperate families stranded with young children

Yahoo News 06 August, 2021 - 09:56am

We talked to a Spirit customer-service agent about working through the meltdown.

She described dealing with crying customers and stranded crew members.

See more stories on Insider's business page.

When Spirit Airlines employees walked into work on Sunday, airports across the country were in utter chaos. Customers were screaming and crying, demanding to know why hundreds of flights were being canceled. Part of the problem: Most staff had no idea either.

"We were not aware why the flights started canceling," one Spirit employee who works in customer service told Insider. "It was one after the other. I had an anxiety attack, thinking maybe something like 9/11 was happening."

More than 1,000 Spirit Airlines flights were canceled this week in an epic meltdown caused by a poorly timed combination of bad weather, system outages, and staffing issues.

The low-cost carrier canceled 260 flights on Friday and 402 flights on Thursday, marking six straight days of disruptions despite Spirit's reassurance that cancellations would start falling.

The Spirit staffer - one of almost 9,000 Spirit employees - requested anonymity to speak freely about the situation, though her identity is known to Insider. She has worked for the airline for seven years and said she stays at the company for its flight discounts, which allow her to visit her son in the military who's stationed abroad.

"I'm exhausted," she said, adding that some Spirit workers felt as though they couldn't take breaks or time to eat lunch, despite working long hours.

She said customers and workers alike could be seen crying throughout the airport. Stranded crew members and passengers whose flights were canceled slept on the floor and on benches. The international flight zone transformed into a temporary rebooking area, as the terminal overflowed with people waiting in lines for hours on end.

The customer-service agent said most passengers were extremely frustrated and that some became aggressive. The most difficult part for her, she said, was not being able to help groups with infants or elderly family members. At one point, she spent four hours trying to help a group after the company's rebooking system crashed. When she finally got the information she needed from her supervisor, the family was nowhere to be found.

-TWU (@transportworker) August 5, 2021

"There's definitely some angry people," Spirit CEO Ted Christie said Thursday, according to CNBC. "Right now, all I can say is we're very sorry for what happened."

During the peak of the meltdown, Spirit announced that employee shifts would require "mandatory overtime due to irregular operations," according to the Spirit staffer, who also provided a copy of a company flyer announcing the policy. She said this led her and other employees to work until 3 a.m. one day and that some junior staffers worked shifts as long as 15 hours on Sunday.

She said many employees felt trapped in mandatory overtime and thought that if they left, they might lose their jobs. According to the Spirit staffer, this fear stemmed from the airline's attendance policy regulated by the "Team Member Dependability Program," an 11-point system that keeps track of missed shifts or tardiness.

The policy dings employees with points for planned absences, unplanned absences, no-shows, and late arrivals, according to a copy of the program obtained by Insider. Once a staff member accrues 11 points, they can be fired.

A Spirit spokesperson did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

Spirit Chief Operating Officer John Bendoraitis sent the airline's operations team an email about the cancellations roughly 12 hours after they began.

"Our scheduling disruption this weekend stems from weather and ATC delays that added up over the past week, taking a toll on our crew availability. I own this, and we have a plan," the internal email read. "Right now, all hands are on deck working around the clock to solve the network disruption. We will not stop until we are successful."

The Transport Workers Union of America said in a statement on Thursday that Spirit Airlines executives have "shown little concern for the safety and mental well-being of their frontline agents at FLL, who have been attacked and even spat on - just for doing their job."

Read the original article on Business Insider

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