Cellphone footage has emerged showing passengers engaged in a wild brawl with police officers and Spirit Airlines employees at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida on Monday, May 7. Chaos erupted at the airport following multiple cancellations of Spirit Airlines flights that left hundreds of travelers stranded.
The footage shows officers struggling to enforce order as a crowd of unruly passengers brawled freely in front of the Spirit Airlines ticket counter at the terminal.
Officers arrest several passengers amid the chaos.
The passengers had reportedly waited up to three hours to either change their tickets or get refunds after Spirit Airlines cancelled several flights abruptly, leaving the passengers stranded in Broward County, Florida, WFOR reported.
About 300 Spirit Airlines flights have been cancelled across the country since the beginning of the month of May, leaving thousands of passengers stranded, according to CNN. The matter came to a head in Broward County when the airline canceled nine flights on Monday night alone, leaving hundreds more stranded. The stranded passengers rushed to the ticket counter only to find hundreds of other passengers from previous flight cancellations who had been waiting for hours in front of the ticket counter without getting attention from the airline employees.
“Everyone was already aggravated about flight delays and the ridiculousness of standing in such a long line for hours, which Spirit Airlines did nothing to help,” a passenger, Cindy Matthews Beard, told CNN. “And then in walks these people off their flight raising a ruckus and cussing, and screaming, and they went straight to the counter.”
The situation degenerated quickly into chaos.
“All of a sudden, one particular flight got canceled, and a mob ensued up here at the front counter, in front of everyone else who had been waiting in line.”
Tempers boiled over as frustrated passengers jostled each other, pushed, cursed and screamed in front of the ticket counter. Broward County deputies intervened to restored order, but instead clashed with frustrated passengers.
Some passengers accused the officers of worsening the confusion by using excessive force to control the already incensed crowd.
“The cops went about it in the wrong away even if they were trying to do the right thing.”
As the commotion escalated into mayhem, a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy was knocked down roughly, leading to the arrest of several passengers who were later charged with disorderly conduct, according to WSVN.
Spirit Airlines later issued a statement, saying that the cancellations were caused by their pilots and that the airline was suing them in a federal court. Spirit Airlines said it filed a federal lawsuit against the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) in Florida’s South District on Monday, accusing the pilots’ union of engaging in “pervasive illegal work slowdown” that could cause “irreparable harm to [the airline’s] goodwill with its customers.”
The lawsuit claimed that as a result of the disruptive action by the pilots, about 300 flights have been canceled since the beginning of the month, 81 on Sunday and 28 on Tuesday morning alone. The lawsuit estimated that about 20,000 travelers have been affected by flight cancellations resulting from the action of the pilots.
“This slowdown is in direct violation of the [Railway Labor Act], which prohibits work slowdowns and strikes during collective bargaining negotiations…”
Reacting specifically to the incident at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, a spokesperson for Spirit Airlines, Paul Berry, said the management of the airline was “shocked and saddened” by what happened.
“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,” Berry said, according to the Washington Post. “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.”
However, NBC News reported that there is an ongoing labor dispute between Spirit Airlines and ALPA, over better contract terms. According to Captain Stuart Morrison, chairman of the Spirit Airlines unit of ALPA, the contracts being offered pilots by the airline were below accepted industry standards.
“Spirit pilots are not prepared to embark on the fool’s errand of accepting substandard pay and retirement based on the unenforceable hypothesis that the Company may grow more quickly,” Morrison said in a statement. “Our peers throughout the industry have uniformly and properly rejected agreements based on that theory.”
However, ALPA denied engaging in a slowdown, saying it was cooperating with Spirit to restore normal services, while going ahead to respond to the airline’s lawsuit.
“The Air Line Pilots Association, International and the Spirit pilot group it represents are not engaged in a job action,” a statement by ALPA said. “Rather, ALPA and the Spirit pilots are continuing to do everything possible to help restore the company’s operations.”
“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,” the statement added.
[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]