Spirit Airlines CEO Ted Christie addressed this week’s operational collapse publicly for the first time Thursday, blaming the more than 1,700 flight cancellations on a chain of events that left the airline short on pilots and flight attendants as August began.
Bad weather at the end of July, when flight crews begin to run out of qualifying hours to work, resulted in cancellations and delays “”pushed us over,” he explained. Flight attendants and pilots timed out, leaving the airline with no slack in its system and requiring cancellations.
Spirit passengers’ lives began to unravel on Sunday, August 1, and have only gotten worse as the week has progressed. Spirit canceled more than 60% of its flights on Tuesday and Wednesday. It canceled 449 flights, or 56% of its flights, on Thursday.
Christie stated that the relocated flight crews are dispersed across the country, and it takes time to reposition them and the planes, which is why the airline is resorting to mass cancellations. Outages in crew scheduling technology did not help.
“”The puzzle became incredibly complicated,” Christie explained.
The bad news for Spirit passengers is that the saga is far from over.
Christie stated that the airline will continue to postpone several flights “over the next few days,” with the goal of minimizing the number of cancellations before the end of the week. The airline has already canceled 237 Friday flights, accounting for nearly one-third of all flights.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard over the last five years to both build Spirit and its reputation,” he said. “I believe we’ve made amazing progress. We are quite aware that this is not our proudest moment.”
Christie refused to place a price figure on Spirit’s demise, stating that “When the math comes, it will come.”
However, the low-cost carrier is liable for stranded passengers’ accommodation bills, as well as a deluge of flight refunds and the cost of rebooking on other flights.
As a matter of policy, Spirit does not rebook stranded passengers on other airlines. However, after Spirit’s flight was canceled at the last minute, agents at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas were furiously booking customers on Southwest planes to San Diego late Thursday.
Spirit has also begun issuing $50 vouchers for future flights to select passengers as a gesture of goodwill, however several passengers have informed USA TODAY that they consider it an insult.
“”The goal is to give folks something they may use against us in the future,” Christie explained.