Home > News > Spirit Airlines Pilot and Flight Attendant Describe Working Amid the Meltdown

Spirit Airlines Pilot and Flight Attendant Describe Working Amid the Meltdown

Date: August 11, 2021

 

By Hannah Towey, Business Insider

  • One pilot said Spirit's cancellations came down to the airline's inadequate infrastructure.
  • Flight attendants were left stranded away from base for multiple days, one Spirit worker said.
  • Some workers drove food to airports and let stranded employees stay in their homes, the worker said.

Spirit Airlines canceled over 2,000 flights last week because of a poorly timed combination of bad weather, system outages, and staffing issues.

The cancellations caused some pilots to fly empty planes across the country while flight attendants were left stranded for days, two Spirit staffers said.  

"If you can't track and see in the IT system where your crew members are, then how are you going to schedule to move them anywhere?" said a flight attendant who was stranded in a major Northeastern city for four days.

"It was like being lost in space," she added. 

One pilot blamed Spirit's operational issues on what he believes is a lack of investment in infrastructure, which he said was evidenced by staffing shortages, antiquated phone lines, and crashing computer systems. 

"They're trying to run an airline of 167 airplanes on an infrastructure that was designed for 50," he said.

Both employees requested anonymity to speak freely about the situation, though their identities and employment were verified by Insider. 

The pilot said some Spirit crew members flew more than the flight-time maximum outlined within their employment contracts. The Federal Aviation Administration mandates that pilots must have at least eight hours of rest within a 24-hour period. But most airlines have stricter policies because of union negotiations.

He said that during Spirit's irregular operations, some pilots had the option to waive those contractual limitations in order to prevent additional flight cancellations and delays. 

"Most pilots I've talked to have been waiving as much as they can in order to keep flights from canceling and airplanes moving," he said. 

A spokesperson for the pilots union said they can't substantiate the claim that crew members had flown beyond their contractual time maximums since they don't have access to the airline's scheduling software.

Spirit did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

When crew members' flights were canceled, some staffers were stranded in airport hotels. This was caused in part by a technical crash that affected Spirit's crew-scheduling system. 

The flight attendant said that about 30 Spirit employees, herself included, were stranded outside the base for multiple days. One employee drove for over an hour to deliver food to the crew, while local flight attendants opened their homes for workers to stay the night, she said. 

The pilot said that when he was assigned to fly a plane to Boston, two flight attendants were missing, causing the flight to be canceled. A few minutes later, he walked by six flight attendants eating dinner in an airport restaurant. They told him they were stranded with nowhere to go. They'd been contacting the company all day and had received little guidance on what to do next.

Then, the pilot flew the empty plane to Boston.

"From my standpoint as a human being, I walked through that gate area and I saw people there with their kids. They're leaving their beach vacation — they have sunburns and their little kids and their luggage and their strollers and their snacks," the pilot said.

"It's 10 o'clock at night and we're canceling a flight because we're missing two flight attendants. Not because the engine fell off the airplane, not because somebody got sick, but because Spirit mismanaged their staff for that flight."

Last week, Ted Christie, Spirit's CEO, apologized for the cancellations on CNBC and promised to fix the airline's staffing and scheduling issues. On Wednesday, only 1% of Spirit's flights were canceled, down from last week's high of 60%.

"There's definitely some angry people," Christie told CNBC last Thursday. "Right now, all I can say is we're very sorry for what happened."

 

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