- Spirit Airlines’ CEO Ted Christie said the airline will continue to cancel flights this week.
- The budget airline is covering some stranded passengers’ hotel costs and tickets on other airlines.
- Spirit has been sending some passengers $50 vouchers for future flights, which some call an insult.
Spirit Airlines CEO Ted Christie publicly addressed this week’s operational meltdown for the first time Thursday, blaming the more than 1,700 flight cancellations on a variety of factors that left it short on pilots and flight attendants as August began.
Bad weather at the end of July, a time when flight crews start to run out of eligible hours to work, caused cancellations and “tipped us over,” he said. Pilots and flight attendants timed out, leaving the airline with no slack in its system and forcing cancellations.
Things began falling apart for Spirit passengers on Sunday, Aug. 1, and have gotten worse as the week’s dragged on. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Spirit canceled more than 60% of its flights. On Thursday, it canceled 449 flights or 56% of its flights, according to flight tracker FlightAware.
Christie said the displaced flight crews were scattered across the country and it takes time to bring them and planes back into position, which is why the airline is resorting to heavy cancellations. Technology outages with crew scheduling didn’t help.
“The puzzle ended up getting very complex,” Christie said.
The bad news for Spirit passengers: the mess isn’t over.
Christie said the airline will continue to cancel a large number of flights “over the next few days,” with the goal of reducing the number of cancellations heading into next week. By 5:30 p.m. ET Friday, the airline has already canceled 346 flights, about 44% of scheduled flights.
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“We’ve worked hard really over the last five years at both building Spirit and building its reputation,’’ he said. “I think we’re made tremendous strides. This is not our proudest moment and we know that.’’
Christie declined to put a price tag on Spirit’s meltdown, saying “the math will come, when the math comes.”
But the budget airline is on the hook for stranded passengers’ hotel costs, where applicable, as well as a flood of flight refunds and the cost of rebooking on other airlines.
Spirit generally doesn’t rebook stranded passengers on other airlines as a matter of policy. But late Thursday, agents at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas were furiously booking passengers on Southwest flights to San Diego after Spirit’s flight was canceled at the last minute.
Spirit has also been sending some passengers $50 vouchers for future flights as a gesture of goodwill, though some travelers have told USA TODAY they consider it an insult.
“The intent is to give people something they can use on us in the future,” Christie said.