Spirit Airlines’ flight cancellations frustrate local passengers

Passengers seek assistance at the Spirit Airlines check-in counter at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Passengers seek assistance at the Spirit Airlines check-in counter at Hartsfield-Jackson.

After three flight cancellations and hours of trekking through the airport and standing in line, Spirit Airlines passenger Michelle Zetina still had another 10 hours of waiting in the terminal for her flight scheduled to depart late Wednesday evening.

Zetina, who lives in Atlanta, is one of thousands of Spirit passengers whose flights have been canceled this week, leaving travelers stuck in cities around the country.

Spirit, an ultra-low-cost carrier, canceled more than 400 flights on Wednesday, or about 60% of its flights, similar to its schedule disruptions on Tuesday, according to FlightAware.com.

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Spirit canceled about 40 of its Wednesday flights, or about 75% of its schedule.

“It’s been stressful,” said Zetina, sitting against a wall with her suitcase beside her in the domestic terminal atrium at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Spirit’s biggest flight hub is in Fort Lauderdale, and the airline only makes up about 3% of traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson. For affected passengers, though, it was little consolation.

After Zetina’s Tuesday flight to Las Vegas was canceled, causing her to miss a friend’s birthday dinner, she arrived at Atlanta’s airport at around 5 a.m. Wednesday, rushing to different gates only to have flights canceled. “I told them I just wanted to be rebooked on another carrier,” Zetina said.

Spirit issued a statement saying it is dealing with “overlapping operational challenges including weather, system outages and staffing shortages that caused widespread irregularities in our operation and impacted crew scheduling.”

The airline added the problems were exacerbated by heavy summer travel and “more limited options” to rebook passengers. The pilot and flight attendant unions at Spirit refuted rumors that the cancellations were due to a crew strike.

Spirit said it rolled out “proactive cancellations” to “reboot” its flight network, and expected flight cancellations to decline in coming days. It recommended customers check their flight status before heading to the airport.

Tanya Brodie said when her early morning Spirit flight was canceled Wednesday, she got a notification telling her the only options were a refund or a flight credit — meaning she’d have to find her own way from Atlanta to Las Vegas. She booked a flight on Frontier Airlines, departing after 10 p.m. Spirit also eventually rebooked her on a connecting flight, but Brodie is hesitant to take it for fear that it could be canceled again.

“I have a convention to be at in the morning,” Brodie said while sitting under the clock tower in the Atlanta airport domestic terminal, adding that she was “trying not to stress.”

Shaké Washer, who lives in Canton, was supposed to fly out Tuesday on Spirit, but that flight was canceled. She was rebooked for a flight leaving 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, then learned it was canceled while she was standing in the security line. She ended up rescheduled for a Southwest flight leaving after 7 p.m. and connecting in Phoenix.

“I’m worried about our flight home, because it’s on Spirit as well,” Washer said. “I’ve never had this happen.”

Washer said she got a $50 credit from Spirit to use by Oct. 1, but says she doesn’t plan to use it. “I wouldn’t fly Spirit again anyway,” Washer said. “It’s been so up and down.”

Spirit in its statement acknowledged: “The last three days were extremely difficult” for its customers and employees, “and for that we sincerely apologize.”

The airline said it plans to make improvements for a more resilient flight network.