Sheriff's deputies responded to the Spirit Airlines terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after skirmishes involving irate passengers broke out following the cancellation of multiple flights Monday night.
Thousands of passengers were stranded at the airport because of a dispute between the airline and its pilots, who say they are working without a contract.
Cellphone video posted online shows passengers crowding the carrier's check-in counters and Broward County Sheriff's deputies trying to break up fights and tackling unruly passengers.
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Sheriff's deputies arrested three people and charged them with disorderly conduct.
In a statement, airline officials say they're "shocked and saddened" to see videos of the airport incident. The Miramar-based company said it filed a lawsuit Monday against the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) and the ALPA Master Executive Council of Spirit pilots over the disruption, which has lead to to hundreds of canceled flights and impacted thousands of travelers.
“We are disappointed that ALPA has decided to engage in this unlawful slowdown,” Spirit spokesman Paul Berry said. “This has led to canceled flights and prevented our customers from taking their planned travel, all for the sole purpose of influencing current labor negotiations. So we reluctantly filed this suit to protect our customers and our operations.”
Spirit also suggested the effort was an attempt by the union to affect contract negotiations.
The union's chairman, Capt. Stuart Morrison, denied the allegations, saying Spirit's pilots would not accept "substandard pay and retirement based on the unenforceable hypothesis that the company may grow more quickly," adding that their peers throughout the industry "have uniformly and properly rejected agreements based on that theory."
Spirit says its service in at least four major airports, including Fort Lauderdale, has taken a hit due to the contract dispute.
Shortly before 3 p.m. Tuesday there were six flight cancellations and 21 delays for Spirit at the Fort Lauderdale airport, according to tracking website FlightAware.com. System wide, the airline had 38 cancellations and 63 delays. Passengers flying the carrier are advised to check their flight's status at Spirit.com.
Brionka Halbert, 18, was trying to return to New York Monday night after a weekend at the Rolling Loud Festival in Miami when Spirit announced her flight was canceled.
“Before we took off, the flight attendants told us we have 28 minutes to board the flight or else the flight will be canceled,” Halbert said. “Everyone was stressed. They asked us to take out our boarding passes and be ready. Then about 20 minutes after that, they told us the flight was canceled. They sent us to the front desk, so that we could either change our tickets or have our tickets refunded.”
Halbert said passengers were "angry and stressed" over the abrupt cancellation. She said it took two to three hours in line to get tickets refunded. "It got rowdy."
According to an arrest report, three people detained by deputies were yelling at employees and threatening them. Officers also alleged they pushed deputies while they were trying to place them under arrest.
"I cried. I'm not going to lie, I cried," Spirit passenger Latreece Smith told NBC 6, recalling the chaotic scene. "I was getting mad. I was getting ready to punch on people, I was so serious."
The Associated Press reported nine flights were cancelled out of the Fort Lauderdale airport. According to Spirit, more than 150 flights have been canceled in the last two days.
Officials from the company told NBC 6 that a Federal Court judge had issued a temporary restraining order that could keep pilots from being able to slow down service.