Federal Court Orders Spirit Airlines Pilots Back to Work After Chaos at Fort Lauderdale Airport

Airport security and local sheriffs were called in on Monday after several Spirit Airlines passengers became irate at flight cancellations in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (Credit: Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, via Associated Press)
Airport security and local sheriffs were called in on Monday after several Spirit Airlines passengers became irate at flight cancellations in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (Credit: Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, via Associated Press)

A federal court granted Spirit Airlines a temporary restraining order Tuesday, compelling the pilots’ union to return to status quo after what the airlines says has been “a pervasive illegal work slowdown” that caused hundreds of flight cancellations and disrupted travel for more than 20,000 passengers in the past week.

The pilots union said Spirit Airlines pilots will fully comply with the court to help restore normal operations.

“We are hopeful that we can put this moment behind us and get back to serving our customers,” Spirit Airlines spokesman Paul Berry said in a statement.

The U.S. District Court ruling comes a day after anger and confusion boiled over at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Monday night as nine Spirit Airlines flights were canceled, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded, according to airport officials.

What followed was chaos as frustrated passengers clashed with Spirit employees, and law enforcement officers tried to maintain order.

Video from the airport showed crowds clustered around Spirit Airlines ticket counters, with people pushing, screaming and cursing.

At one point in one of the videos, the stanchions holding in the line were knocked over, and a Broward County sheriff’s deputy was shoved to the ground. Sheriff’s deputies detained three passengers and charged them with disorderly conduct, according to arrest reports.

The flight cancellations were reportedly the result of a legal dispute between the budget airline and the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA).

In a statement to The Washington Post, Spirit Airlines blamed its pilots for the cancellations and the resulting chaos. About 300 Spirit Airlines flights have been canceled in the past week, according to a lawsuit Spirit lawsuit filed against ALPA on Monday.

ALPA disputed the airline’s accusations. But on Tuesday afternoon it said Spirit pilots “are committed to helping impacted passengers and the company restore normal operations.

“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. We call on the company to join forces with ALPA and the Spirit pilots to do just that,” ALPA said in a statement

The pilot actions have impacted about 15 percent of flights across the network, Spirit said. The U.S. District Court in South Florida has scheduled a May 15 hearing for a preliminary injunction.

“We sincerely apologize to our customers for the disruption and inconveniences they have suffered,” Berry said. “We believe this is the result of intimidation tactics by a limited number of our pilots affecting the behavior of the larger group.”

Authorities say the behavior of a few passengers at Fort Lauderdale Monday night caused a crowd of about 500 people to “become enraged, fearful, or visually upset.” The incident, an arrest report said, “resembled the start of a riot.”

One of the passengers became “increasingly aggressive to the point of near violence” toward an airline employee, according to the arrest report. The passenger then “challenged deputies with threatened physical violence,” the report said.

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SOURCE: Amy B Wang and Luz Lazo  
The Washington Post