Davante Garrett, 22; Desmond Waul, 22; and Janice Waul, 24, of New York were arrested at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport last Monday night. Violence broke out at the airport when 11 flights were canceled by Spirit Airlines, disrupting the travel plans of hundreds of passengers.
The three New Yorkers reportedly screamed at Spirit Airlines’ airport staff and threatened to fight them, which caused the crowd to become more aggressive. They were charged with disorderly conduct, inciting a riot, resisting arrest, and trespassing. All three were released from jail the following day.
Monday night’s incident culminated with the cancellation of 300 flights over the course of the week, forcing the carrier to issue refunds or re-book passengers on other flights, even on different airlines.
“We sincerely apologize to our customers for the disruption and inconveniences they have suffered,” Spirit spokesperson Paul Berry said in a statement. “We believe this is the result of intimidation tactics by a limited number of our pilots affecting the behavior of the larger group. We are hopeful that we can put this moment behind us and get back to serving our customers.”
The airline blamed the cancellations on a dispute with its pilots, alleging that the action was an attempt by the pilots to influence current contract negotiations. The carrier and its pilots have been in contract negotiations for over two years now.
Spirit claims that the pilots’ refusal to accept last-minute assignments led to the cancellations. But the Air Line Pilot Association International (ALPA), which represents the carrier’s pilots, denied the allegations.
Spirit sued its pilots in federal court and was granted a temporary restraining order to prevent further work slowdowns. In the suit, the carrier alleged that the cancellations affected more than 20,000 customers in key cities such as Las Vegas, Detroit, Chicago O-Hare, and Fort Lauderdale, resulting in a loss of $8.5 million in revenue.
“We are disappointed that ALPA has decided to engage in this unlawful slowdown,” said Berry. “This is clearly unlawful activity under the Railway Labor Act, which governs labor relations in the airline industry. ALPA and those individuals responsible should be held accountable.”
ALPA released a statement vowing to help return operations to normal.
“The court has spoken and Spirit pilots will fully comply with the order handed down, which is completely in line with our overriding goal: the resumption of normal operations,” the union’s statement said. “We call on the company to join forces with ALPA and the Spirit pilots to do just that.”
The story went viral and caught the attention of Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees the country’s airline industry. Nelson spoke about the incident during a speech on the Senate floor.
“I have just gotten off the phone with the CEO of Spirit Airlines as well as the head of the Air Line Pilots Association and basically have told them that they should get this thing fixed and get it fixed quick,” Nelson said. “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.”