Airline Turbulence: Spirit and American Airlines Struggling Mightily with Flight Cancellations, Customers Exasperated and Even Unruly

With the return of air travel to pre-pandemic levels—and, in some cases, exceeding pre-pandemic levels—many airlines have struggled to mitigate a whole host of issues, e.g. increased demand, persistent staffing shortages, bad weather, and mechanical issues.

Spirit Airlines and American Airlines are two that have stood out in particular as of late.

On Monday alone Spirit, a low-budget carrier, canceled 277 flights before 5:30pm, 36 percent of all flights scheduled that day. That was up significantly from the 165 canceled on Sunday. Hundreds of flights were also delayed.

And it’s getting worse. As of early Tuesday afternoon, Spirit has canceled a full 50 percent of their scheduled trips, according to FlightAware.com. Another 12 percent have been delayed.

Meanwhile, American Airlines has canceled 280 flights, or nine percent of scheduled fares, and delayed another 394 (13 percent) as of Tuesday afternoon.

The issues have taken a toll on customers as well. Many have been left stranded at airports to camp out overnight. Lines at Spirit counters are said to be a few hours long, with only one or two agents assisting undoubtedly exasperated customers.

Spirit counters at Orlando International Airport (MCO) “looked like a hurricane shelter,” passenger Rebecca Osborn told USA Today.

In an extreme case of customer frustration, Spirit passengers allegedly began rioting at San Juan Airport on Monday. Twitter user @JustJettingThru posted a crew message that reads as follows:

“Just got information from SJU ops. Civil unrest happening within the facilities and airport not suitable. Divert FLL (Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport) for unsuitable arprt.”

@JustJettingThru added that passengers were “breaking computers, attempting to break the jet bridge door, and assaulting gate agents.”

“25 crew members [were] huddled in a ramp break room waiting for SWAT to escort them away. Crews urged to change clothes to avoid detection. Tempers flaring in MCO and FLL as well.”

As for American Airlines, two passengers on a Sunday flight from New Orleans to Austin (TX) got into a fistfight over a stuck reclined seat. Video of the fight can be watched here.

It’s been a long hot summer for the airline industry. And there are few signs that it’ll cool down anytime soon.