With Spirit Airlines’ flights canceled at least through Tuesday due to a pilots’ strike, thousands of irate passengers faced sky-high ticket prices for rebooking on other carriers.
Preparing for the third day of its pilots’ strike, Spirit Airlines canceled all of its Monday and Tuesday flights.
That means the roughly 10,000 Spirit passengers who travel through Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport each day will be affected. Travelers returning from Caribbean cruises streamed into the airport Sunday to look for other ways to get home. Some customers’ anger toward the Miramar-based airline and its pilots intensified as they received sky-high quotes for booking on other airlines. Others complained that they could not reach Spirit by telephone to cash in on a refund.
“I was on hold for four hours, and nobody ever picked up,” said Henry Wolfskill, a retired accountant in Deerfield Beach. Wolfskill said he only knew his flight on Sunday to Washington, D.C., was canceled because the broker, Cheaptickets.com, informed him.
Edliani Almonte, of Margate, hung up after staying on hold for three hours. During that time, he posted Facebook updates about it, and even showered. “Now that I’ve been on the phone for almost two hours waiting on Spirit Airlines to pick up, I think they should just fire those pilots that are on strike,” he wrote on Facebook.
Sylvia Wattley, 61, was returning from a cruise to Grand Cayman and Honduras when her flight to St. Thomas was canceled. “I’m going to get a refund of about $200,” she said after talking to the Spirit agent at the counter. “But it will cost me at least $900 for a one-way ticket to St. Thomas today.”
A Spirit spokeswoman declined to comment about customers’ complaints, but the airline apologized to customers Sunday about the canceled flights in an announcement on its website. “Spirit Airlines is continuing to work with our pilot union to reach a fair and equitable agreement that ensures the long-term stability of the company, and allows us to continue offering you the ultra low fares you have come to know,” the statement said.
About 110 Spirit employees, mostly white-shirted pilots from Spirit and other airlines, gathered at midday Sunday at the corner of Griffin Road and U.S. 1, and marched for two hours under a stand of royal palm trees. Many passersby supported the demonstration with their car horns or a wave, but there were some dissenters.
“One guy yelled, `Get back to work. I’m out of a job,’ ” said Travis Wheat, a Spirit pilot and strike spokesman.
Spirit, which is privately held, earned $108 million in 2009 — the highest profit margin of any U.S. airline, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Spirit is a small carrier nationally, but it is the largest at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood. It accounts for 41 percent of the airport’s international traffic.
Story by Julie Patel and Mike Clary, Sun Sentinel
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