FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Three people were arrested after chaos erupted at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Monday when Spirit Airlines was forced to cancel nine flights due to a pilot dispute.
Cell phone video captured stranded Spirit passengers screaming, pushing and shoving Broward Sheriff’s deputies who were trying to restrain the crowd and keep everything under control.
Janice Waul, her brother Desmond Waul, and Devante Garrett were taken into custody and charged with enticing/encouraging a riot.
“This is my first time every being arrested in my life, my life and I have a college degree. This is ridiculous. I just want to go home,” said Janice Waul who is missing her college graduation in New York.
As for her brother Desmond, he said the trouble began when he tried to get a refund. He said an airline employee cursed at him.
“We took our cameras out. We told them let me get your ID badge. Let me get your badge so we know your name so we can make a complaint. Then they turn around and they grabbed security and started flipping us on the floor,” said Desmond Waul.
On Tuesday, it was a much different picture at the airport – more calm – but there were still delayed flights.
Jameeka Price planned to spend a relaxing few days in Santo Domingo with her sister and family celebrating her sister’s wedding but when she got an email from Spirit Airlines Tuesday morning that her flight to Miami was being delayed for hours, she knew that relaxing trip turned super stressful.
“It’s extremely frustrating. My sister’s wedding is tomorrow and that means that if I don’t come out-of-pocket for another ticket, thanks to Spirit, I’m not gonna be able to meet my sister for her wedding,” said Price.
Price said the Spirit customer service was lacking.
“They were not cooperative at all in terms of compensating a lot of us,” said Price.
While watching clips of the chaos the night before, she said she could understand customers’ frustration. Price said Spirit offered her a $50 voucher to be used on their airline within the next two months.
“I missed another connecting transportation to where my final destination is,” said traveler Kaydia Brooks whose flight to Jamaica was also delayed. “That was unfortunate what happened, but I no control over it. I’ll just have to go with the flow until the problem is solved.”
In another video from the day before, sheriff’s deputies lined up behind the Spirit Airlines ticket counter as customer service reps dealt with irate passengers.
“It was very chaotic,” said Timari Cameron. “I mean it started with Spirit and the customers and then it went to the customers against the police and then it went to a standstill. Then we got up there to talk to someone and they said you can’t go home until Wednesday.”
Cameron and Latreece Smith had arrived in the middle of the chaos and found out they were among the hundreds of Spirit passengers stranded. They ended up spending the night in the airport. Smith said this was her first time flying on Spirit and it would be her last time.
“I was sitting in my bed watching that video and I was shocked. I was disgusted and I felt horrible for our customers,” said Paul Berry with Spirit Airlines.
Spirit said its service in at least four major airports, including Ft Lauderdale, had taken a hit due to a contract dispute with its pilots.
“Over the last few days, we’ve had pilots, a small group of pilots that have been pressuring the larger group of pilots who are great, who want to serve our customers, but they’re pressuring them not to take open flights,” said Berry.
The pilots say they are working without a contract.
Monday evening Spirit Airlines issued a statement saying because of the “unlawful slowdown” they filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) – members of Master Executive Council – for “unlawful job action by Spirit pilots.”
“We are shocked and saddened to see the videos of what took place at Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport this evening. This is a result of unlawful labor activity by some Spirit pilots designed to disrupt Spirit operations for our customers, by canceling multiple flights across our network. These pilots have put their quest for a new contract ahead of getting customers to their destinations and the safety of their fellow Spirit Team Members. It is for this reason, Spirit has filed suit in Federal Court to protect our customers’ future travel.”
ALPA denied any involvement in the so-called “slowdown” and said Spirit’s suit is unwarranted.
“The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l and the Spirit pilot group it represents are not engaged in a job action. Rather, ALPA and the Spirit pilots are continuing to do everything possible to help restore the company’s operations, which have experienced significant problems over the past several days. While we will continue these efforts, we will actively defend the association, its officers and its member pilots against the unwarranted and counterproductive legal action brought this evening by Spirit Airlines.”
Spirit said this boils down to labor negotiations and unfortunately their passengers are being caught in the middle. The airline is working to accommodate the hundreds of passengers impacted by the situation – like Tygear Kelly.
“It was chaotic. It was packed, this whole area was full of people,” said Kelly. “I had to rebook my flight and everything. I missed my flight, I had to go back to the hotel where I was staying and I’m back here now to go back to New York.
If you have a flight, we suggest you call ahead.