Why Is Spirit Airlines Canceling So Many Flights?

A combination of bad weather, IT problems, and staff shortages appear to be behind a horror three days at Spirit Airlines. Cancelations and delays have crippled the Florida-based ultra-low-cost since Sunday and unleashed a wave of bad publicity.

Spirit Airlines is recovering from a horror run of delays and cancelations. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

With hundreds of flights canceled, social media is full of irate passengers stranded at airports overnight. According to FlightAware, Spirit Airlines canceled 60% of its schedule on Sunday, 71% on Monday, and 54% on Tuesday.

“Line for ⁦@SpiritAirlines⁩ at LAX now out the door after the airline cancels 400+ flights; blaming bad weather + staff shortages,” said one person on Twitter. “Domino effect of delays and cancellations could take days to resolve.”

A trifecta of bad weather, IT outages, & staff shortages impacts Spirit Airlines

According to CNN, Spirit’s horror show was a slow build. Over the previous week, a series of bad weather events had seen flight crews max out their allowable working hours.

Spirit Airlines called in replacement crews but soon exhausted their allowable hours as well. Federal law sets limits on how many hours flight crew can work. An IT outage affecting crew scheduling exacerbated existing challenges.

The outage, which occurred on Tuesday morning, meant crews could not be rescheduled as needed. As well as leaving passengers stranded, Spirit’s IT problems saw some flight crews stranded away from their base and unable to get to their assigned flights.

“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,” Spirit Airlines said in a statement.

Spirit Airlines was looking to reset their systems on Monday rather than manage their way through the cascading delays and cancelations.

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Spirit is not the only airline having a rough few days

Unpredictable weather events like thunderstorms can cause chaos for an airline. Spirit is not the only airline adversely impacted lately. On Tuesday, American Airlines canceled 309 flights and delayed a further 583 flights. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines canceled 103 flights and delayed 689 flights. Unpredictable problems like bad weather and more predictable issues like staffing shortages have severely impacted several United States-based airlines this year.

Much of the social media ire directed at Spirit Airlines since the weekend seems to stem from poor communication and stranded passengers. Many passengers also appear confused about their rights and an airline’s obligations in the event of delays or cancelations.

“I’m going on 48 hours with no idea where my bag is. No one was at the check-in counter after multiple cancelations,” one Washington DC-based stranded passenger said on Twitter. “No one to offer different flights, hotel, nothing. Children and elderly sleeping on the floor – pregnant women – including myself. But nothing from you- not a word.”

“I’ve been stuck in Houston 1500 miles away from home for two days. You guys canceled my flight home, rescheduled us, and canceled that flight too, with no additional help or rescheduling. I had to pay nearly $800 out of pocket to book with Delta in order to get home,” posted another.

Spirit advises it continues to experience some problems across its network. Photo: Spirit Airlines

Bad weather lets Spirit off the hook

An airline’s obligation to passengers in the United States frequently depends on what causes the delay or cancelation. Acts of God, like thunderstorms, can let airlines off the compensation hook. But often, airlines will issue vouchers, find hotels, and do what they can for passengers as an act of goodwill. But for ultra-low-cost airlines like Spirit, that’s frequently not the case.

At the time of publication, Spirit Airlines advises it continues to experience operational challenges across some areas of its network.