After 6 days and 2,000 cancelations, Spirit Airlines’s operation meltdown continues

Aug 6, 2021

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Cancelations at Spirit Airlines continued on Friday, with 280 flights — or 36% of its schedule for the day — canceled by mid-morning, according to tracking website FlightAware.

It was a modest but notable improvement over recent days, which have seen the ultra-low-cost carrier scrap more than 60% of its daily scheduled flights, stranding tens of thousands of passengers and crew members. The cancelations began on Sunday and continued through the week.

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Spirit has pointed to a combination of summer storms causing delays throughout July, staffing shortages similar to those that have affected other carriers earlier this summer, a surge in summer travel demand that the airline was ill-prepared to meet, and IT issues.

Everything came to a head during a series of storms at the end of July, as flight crews hit their maximum number of work hours and began to time out, tipping the airline over the edge at a time when there was no more margin for error.

CEO Ted Christie told reporters Thursday night that the carrier will need to cancel additional flights in the coming days as it works to reset its operation and get its schedule and network back on track.

“Right now, all I can say is we’re very sorry for what happened,” he said.

“We’ve worked hard really over the last five years at both building Spirit and building its reputation,” he told USA Today. “I think we’re made tremendous strides. This is not our proudest moment and we know that.”

Adding to the difficulties in getting operations running regularly: pilots and flight attendants were left out of position scattered around the country and Central America, and with so many flights being canceled, it was logistically difficult to get them — and aircraft — back to the right places.

“The puzzle ended up getting very complex,” Christie added to USA Today.

One question is whether the reputation hit will impact Spirit’s customer demand in the future.

Some industry observers, however, have said that any impact is likely to be short-term.

Brett Snyder, author of the Cranky Flier blog and concierge service, told CNN: “Eventually, people forget when the ticket price is right.”

The financial impact of the crisis, however, is not yet known, but Spirit will have to cover stranded customers’ hotel costs, as well as refunds, and the cost of rebooking some passengers on other airlines — something that Spirit has avoided doing in the past.

Related: What to do if your flight is delayed or canceled?

The airline relies on a high utilization business model, making quick turns with its aircraft and crews while minimizing any time spent idle on the ground. Data from flight tracking website FlightRadar24 showed numerous Spirit planes on the ground at outstations for more than 14 hours.

Spirit’s stock was down more than 4.5% for the week as of mid-morning Friday.

Featured photo by Jetlinerimages/Getty Images

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