Spirit Airlines CEO on cancellations leaving people with nowhere to go: “Heart-wrenching”

Travel chaos continues for Spirit Airlines and its customers. On Friday morning, the low-cost airline canceled more than 250 flights, bringing the total number of canceled flights this week to more than 1,700. 

Spirit blames a perfect storm of staff shortages and bad weather for the cancellations, which left thousands of frustrated passengers stranded.

President and CEO Ted Christie said cancellations will continue for a few more days. He told CBS News correspondent Errol Barnett he expects operations to be back to normal by early next week — and is apologizing emphatically to passengers.

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But that’s not helping flyers, some of whom have spent hundreds of dollars on new flights, hotels and car rentals. Those who can’t afford that are sleeping in baggage claim areas and in wheelchairs at airports coast-to-coast, and that’s adding to their frustration.

CBS News asked Christie to respond to those stories of passengers with nowhere to go.

“It’s heart-wrenching. It’s a terrible experience, and we’re doing our best to make up for that, and I believe we have, so that those people are either where they belong, or they’re in a hotel or are afforded the option to go somewhere else.” 

Christie said that includes reimbursing travelers for food, and booking them on other airlines.

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Thousands of Spirit passengers were stranded around the country this week as more than 1,700 of the airline’s flights were cancelled.   CBS News

He admits Spirit has simply been overwhelmed, and that the problems began in late July with bad weather across the country, resulting in delays, and stranded crews leading to staff shortages, creating a domino effect.

The airline should have canceled even more flights to reset, he said, but instead they tried to stay afloat by maintaining flights to accommodate the large number of passenger bookings. 

Christie said he is determined to win his customers’ trust back. The airline has been working diligently to improve its reliability and reputation, he said. But since this has been such a painful week for so many people, it remains to be seen just how long it will take before they trust this airline again.