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Spirit turbulence reaches Austin airport as airline continues flight-canceling frenzy

Lines at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport are nearly back to their heyday as summer travel peaks and major airlines experience widespread cancellations. (Claire Partain/Austonia)

Spirit Airlines continues to take a nosedive as it cancels most of its flights nationwide; 22 flights were canceled from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport alone since Sunday.

The Florida-based carrier stumbled through the beginning of the week, canceling half of its schedule on Tuesday due to glitches in staff scheduling technology and infrastructure issues spurred on by weather-related concerns. Cancellation woes continued into Wednesday, with 418 flights (60%) of their schedule canceled by 1 p.m.

Only one flight out of the six arrivals and six departures scheduled at ABIA will still arrive according to plan on Wednesday, ABIA Public Information Officer Bryce Dubee told Austonia.

"Spirit has had some ongoing operational issues and has seen a significant number of cancellations," Dubee said. "For them, it is significant."

The airline was joined by American Airlines with high cancellations rates. AA scrapped 300 flights by early afternoon Tuesday, but the high number only accounts for 9% of its schedule. By Wednesday afternoon, only 3% of flights were taken off the schedule.

Dubee said that American Airlines had only canceled one arrival to ABIA since Sunday and that the issues "don't seem to be ongoing." American Airlines said that at least three-fourths of cancellations were due, at least in part, to a lack of pilots, while others, namely at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, were weather-related.

Meanwhile, Spirit said in a statement that they would see cancellations start dropping on Thursday.

The airline, which saw 20% of its schedule canceled Sunday and 42% Monday, said that "overlapping operational challenges including weather, system outages and staffing shortages" caused issues in crew scheduling. Some of the cancellations were made proactively as they fought to reset the sinking ship.

The issue was exacerbated by peak summer travel crowds. While airports are seeing 80% of pre-pandemic peak travel levels, many airline and airport companies have significantly fewer on staff. Spirit's pilot union said in a tweet that staffing strikes were not the cause for the week's cancellations.

Unlike other standard airlines, the "ultra-low-cost-carrier" doesn't have agreements when cancellations occur, meaning travelers can be left stranded. While Dubee said the cancellations have not caused anything more than general frustration for customers at ABIA, unconfirmed reports of riots in Puerto Rico and Florida rose to the surface in the wake of the cancellations.

Spirit said that lines have already begun to decrease substantially as they work to make amends—including providing refunds and helping process meal and hotel vouchers—and reboot the network. The carrier also pointed out that they held the lowest percentage of cancellations in 2020 and would soon be able to bounce back from the meltdown.

In the meantime, Dubee said its best for Spirit customers traveling through ABIA to check with the airline itself for more assistance, refunds and cancellation information.


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