Spirit Airlines again cancels more than half its flights, stranding passengers at MYR as chaos enters fifth day

Travel

A Spirit Airlines flight landing at Myrtle Beach International Airport May 23 (WBTW)

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW/CBS News) — Spirit Airlines canceled about half its scheduled flights for Thursday, the fifth straight day of extremely high cancellation numbers at the budget airline.

The low-cost carrier announced it expects cancellations will begin to drop, however, passengers continue to experience issues at Myrtle Beach International Airport. Another 20 incoming flights and 16 outgoing flights were canceled for Thursday. Destinations include Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Columbus, Baltimore, and New York.

Nationwide, Spirit had canceled about 320 flights, or 47% of its schedule, according to the FlightAware tracking service. In addition, dozens of more flights were late. The blame appeared to lie at least partly with a technology outage affecting crew scheduling.

The airline’s issues, first reported over the weekend, are due to overlapping problems including staffing shortages, severe weather and system outages, Spirit Airlines spokesperson Erik Hofmeyer said. “These issues were exacerbated by the fact that we are in peak summer travel season with very high industry load factors and more limited options for Guest re-accommodations,” he said.

Hofmeyer said the airline was proactively canceling some flights — dropping them before most passengers drive to the airport — to “reset” the operation.

“We’re working around the clock to mitigate the travel disruptions caused by overlapping operational challenges including weather, system outages and staffing shortages in some areas of the operation,” Hofmeyer said. “We’re working to provide refunds for cancellations and, when possible, to re-accommodate our guests” on other flights.

Over the last couple of days, severe storms affected areas in southeastern Oregon, southwest Idaho, northern Nevada, the Southwest, the Northeast and the Great Basin, according to the National Weather Service. Tornadoes with large hail were reported in areas from the Great Plains to the Lower Missouri Valley, while flash flood warnings were issued throughout various areas in the country.

Passengers have now been trying for days to fly out of Myrtle Beach International Airport. Two passengers were unable to make it to funerals. “It’s been a catastrophe,” Chasity Davidson said. Davidson, flying back home to Pittsburgh, has been here since Sunday and missed a chemotherapy appointment.

One passenger Tuesday had nine different boarding passes for nine flights — all of which got canceled. “I’ve never been through this before,” said Charles Edwards, who’s stranded from Detroit. “After the flights that I’ve had, I’ve never been through this before.”

“My back hurts. My legs. All that,” Edwards said. “Still tired. I feel like I barely slept.” One passenger told News13 that hundreds of people were sleeping on the ground in the airport.

The airline said staff members from across the company have stepped up to help in ways such as expediting the processing of meal and hotel vouchers. The airline said lines at airports have been decreasing as they re-accommodate passengers who have been stranded.

“The last three days were extremely difficult for our Guests and Team Members, and for that we sincerely apologize,” the airline said in a statement. “We continue to work around the clock to get our Guests where they need to be.”

“After working through proactive cancellations, we’ve implemented a more thorough reboot of the network, allowing us to reassign our crews more efficiently and restore the network faster.”

The airline said it is learning from this disruption to get back to high-performance levels.

“By taking an in-depth look at the challenges we’re facing, we have identified opportunities for improvement that will help us operate a more resilient network and better serve our guests.”

The airline is urging passengers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.

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