Chaos erupted at a Florida airport Sunday night and into Monday when Spirit Airlines, notorious for offering cheap flights that are regularly delayed or scrapped altogether, announced yet another cancellation.
Now the airline is suing its pilots and the union representing them, alleging that they have been deliberately stalling flights as retaliation over contract disputes.
The incident took place at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport late Sunday night. According to the lawsuit, Spirit had canceled 81 flights in one day across the country, and approximately 300 over the past week.
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office arrested three people during the melee.
CNN reported that after yet another canceled flight, passengers stormed the Spirit Airlines check-in counter and began yelling at the staff.
People tweeted videos of the massive crowd surrounding the counter, some showing the escalation of the mass argument from verbal to physical when authorities stepped in.
Spirit Airlines spokesperson Paul Barry said in a statement sent to BuzzFeed News that the company was “shocked and saddened” to hear about the brawl at Fort Lauderdale airport.
Barry added that the incident was “a result of unlawful labor activity by some Spirit pilots designed to disrupt Spirit operations for our customers, by canceling multiple flights across our network.”
The complaint against Spirit pilots and the union that represents them, the Airline Pilots Association, International (ALPA), alleges that the two entities conspired to purposefully reduce pilot availability, resulting in a slew of delayed and canceled flights.
“The pilots are engaged in this illegal slowdown in order to bring pressure on Spirit during current negotiations for an amended collective bargaining agreement pursuant to Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act,” the complaint reads.
But in a statement sent to BuzzFeed News from ALPA, the organization said it is not colluding with Spirit pilots to hold up flights.
“The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l and the Spirit pilot group it represents are not engaged in a job action,” the statement read.
“Rather, ALPA and the Spirit pilots are continuing to do everything possible to help restore the company’s operations, which have experienced significant problems over the past several days.”
The union added that while it will continue those negotiation efforts, it will “actively defend the association, its officers and its member pilots against the unwarranted and counterproductive legal action brought this evening by Spirit Airlines.”
On Tuesday, a federal judge granted Spirit Airlines a temporary restraining order, effectively stopping the pilots from "calling, permitting, instigating, authorizing, encouraging, participating in, approving, or continuing any form of interference," with Spirit Airlines, according to the court's decision.
"The court has spoken and Spirit pilots will fully comply with the order handed down, which is completely in line with our overriding goal: the resumption of normal operations," a subsequent statement from ALPA to BuzzFeed News read after the court's decision. "We call on the company to join forces with ALPA and the Spirit pilots to do just that.”
Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.
Contact Tamerra Griffin at email@example.com.
Talal Ansari is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is 4FEE 894C 8088 7E08 E170 A515 2801 7CC6 95D3 11C2
Contact Talal Ansari at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.