Judge Issues Restraining Order After Fort Lauderdale Airport Chaos Over Canceled Spirit Flights

Sen. Bill Nelson told the airline industry to "get their act together"

A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against a pilot's union Tuesday to prevent boycotts or slowdowns after irate passengers started a near-riot over canceled Spirit Airlines flights at Fort Lauderdale's airport in South Florda.

Deputies arrested three people from New York at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Monday, charging them with inciting a riot, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and trespassing.

The Broward Sheriff's Office said about 500 people were crowded into Spirit's terminal after the airline canceled nine flights because there were no pilots. Video posted online showed deputies grappling with screaming passengers and breaking up fights. The cancellations left hundreds stranded at the airport Monday night.

The discount airline said pilots are refusing to pick up open flying assignments, which Spirit claimed is an illegal and concerted plot by the Air Line Pilots Association to apply pressure during contract negotiations. It has filed a lawsuit, saying it has had to cancel about 300 flights nationally and internationally over the past week because of the union's actions. Another 36 were canceled Tuesday.

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Federal District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas issued a temporary restraining order against the union Tuesday, ordering its member pilots to not engage in any boycotts or slowdown, saying that would violate federal law.

Spirit spokesman Paul Berry issued a statement apologizing to customers and saying the company is "shocked and saddened" by the Fort Lauderdale melee.

"We believe this is the result of intimidation tactics by a limited number of our pilots affecting the behavior of the larger group,'' Berry said.

Meanwhile, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor Tuesday to tell the airline industry to "get their act together," otherwise Congress would be forced to act.

"What happened just last night in Fort Lauderdale is just another example of passengers becoming sick and tired of what they perceive as mistreatment by airlines," Nelson said. "I have no trouble in putting the airlines on notice if they can't get their act together and start treating the flying public with respect rather than making them think that they are self-loading cargo then this Congress is going to be forced to act."

Nelson said he spoke about the incident with the CEO of Spirit Airlines and the head of the Air Line Pilots Association.

The union has denied the accusation from Spirit, but said in a statement that its members will obey the judge's order with the goal of helping Spirit resume normal operations.

Airport spokesman Greg Meyer said Tuesday that the airport staff has added security agents and other staff at the terminal to help Spirit. He said passengers are often anxious before flying, so any serious disruption can aggravate matters. Three more flights were canceled Tuesday.

"For many people, airline travel is very challenging. A lot of people don't do it frequently, so they are nervous anyway. When your flight is canceled and you need to be somewhere at a certain time it is an imposition and we understand that. The airport tries to work with our airline partner to work with our passengers,'' Meyer said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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