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Chaos at Florida Airport After Spirit Flights Canceled

By JOSH REPLOGLE and TERRY SPENCER, Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WJZ/AP) — Three New Yorkers remained jailed Tuesday after authorities said they started a near-riot at Fort Lauderdale’s airport after Spirit Airlines canceled nine flights, leading to chaos in its terminal.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office said about 500 people were crowded into Spirit’s terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport late Monday night after the airline canceled the flights because there were no pilots.

The discount airline says pilots are refusing to pick up open flying assignments, which Spirit claims is an illegal and concerted plot by the Air Line Pilots Association to apply pressure during contract negotiations. It has filed a lawsuit. The union has denied the accusation, saying the cancellations are the airline’s fault.

And as a result, Spirit said it had to cancel hundreds of flights in the last week alone.

Sheriff’s reports released Tuesday say 22-year-old Desmond Waul of Selden and 24-year-old Janice Waul and 22-year-old Davante Garrett, both of Brentwood, were seen by deputies threatening the airline’s front counter employees. Deputies said their actions caused the crowd to become increasingly aggressive to the point of near-violence and that they wouldn’t leave when ordered. When deputies tried to arrest them, they said the three threatened them and resisted efforts to handcuff them.

The three are charged with inciting a riot, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and trespassing. They were being held Tuesday at the Broward jail in lieu of $10,000 bond each. Records do not show if they have attorneys.

“Very angry angry angry people.  Everybody had places to be and couldn’t be there,” says Debbie McGrandy from Detroit.
Spirit says the dispute forced them to cancel 300 flights in the last week.
The company said 20,000 passengers were affected.
At BWI, one woman said she spoke with another passenger who was stranded for hours.
“She came in a straight flight, she had to fly to New York, and then to Chicago. She is not going to be home till midnight,” says Julia Kinsey.
“I actually got an email before we got here about canceled flights, but thankfully ours still said it was on time,” says Yolanda Nowens.
Spirit airlines apologized to customers who were impacted by the disruptions and then went on to blame “a limited group of pilots.”
The airline also filed suit that would force pilots to go back to work and won.
One passenger advocacy group said airlines need to go back to the basics of customer service.
“All the way from the CEO, right down to the gate agent. Right now, the airlines are thinking about one thing, that’s profits,” says Charles Leocha, with Travelers United.
But one day after the brawl, many spirit flyers at BWI had no problems with the airline.
“The airline was great, the passengers, some of them were a little dicey,” says BWI traveler Heath Johnson.
“There was no lines, no wait, no delays,” says Aaron McCleary
The suit granted by a Florida judge which forced those pilots to go back to work is only temporary.
The Airline Pilots’ Association says they are not “conducting a work slow down,” and are working with the airline to resume normal operations.
Fort Lauderdale airport was the scene of a mass shooting in January that killed five people and wounded six. It happened in another terminal on the opposite side of the airport.

Airport spokesman Greg Meyer said Tuesday that the airport staff has added security agents and other staff at the terminal to help Spirit. He said passengers are often anxious before flying, so any serious disruption can aggravate matters. Three more flights were canceled Tuesday.

“For many people, airline travel is very challenging. A lot of people don’t do it frequently, so they are nervous anyway. When your flight is canceled and you need to be somewhere at a certain time it is an imposition and we understand that. The airport tries to work with our airline partner to work with our passengers,” Meyer said.
___
Associated Press reporter David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

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(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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