Mired in cancellations, Spirit says sorry

Spirit Airlines has issued a public apology to customers as it wades through a fourth consecutive day of exceptionally high cancellations. 

Through 3:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday the discount carrier had canceled 418 flights, amounting to 60% of its schedule, according to FlightAware. The dismal performance came on the heels of Spirit cancelling 61% of its schedule on Tuesday, as well as 42% of its flights on Monday and 20% of its flights on Sunday. 

In a statement Wednesday, the carrier attributed the operational meltdown to overlapping factors, including weather, system outages and staffing shortages, which have combined to impact crew scheduling. The issues, the carrier said, have been exacerbated by the fact that it is the peak summer travel season, which has limited reaccommodation options. 

“After working through yesterday’s 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. As a result, cancellation numbers will progressively drop in the days to come,” Spirit said. 

Other airlines struggle with cancellations

Several U.S. airlines have experienced operational and customer service difficulties in recent weeks due challenges posed by the quick ramp-up in travel demand this summer, including staffing shortages. 

Early this week, American Airlines also had high cancellation numbers, though much lower than Spirit on a percentage basis. American canceled 18% of its flights on Monday and 12% on Tuesday, but it had brought that figure down to 3% for Wednesday by midafternoon. 

Despite Spirit’s sky-high cancellation rate Wednesday, the carrier said there were areas of progress by the afternoon, including shorter airport lines as it more efficiently reaccommodated passengers. 

The severe operational challenges are an anomaly for the Fort Lauderdale-based airline, which had, until this week, emerged as one of the most reliable airlines in the U.S. Last year, Spirit led the 10 largest U.S. carriers with a cancellation rate of 2.19%. Its cancellation rate of 1.75% in 2019 was also better than the industry average of 1.9%, DOT statistics show. 

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