Spirit Airlines canceled hundreds of flights on Friday, marking the sixth consecutive day the low-fare carrier has been forced to ground planes. Those cancellations have had an impact on McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where Spirit ranks as the No. 2 airline in terms of passengers served.
The Florida-based airline cited “operational challenges” in a statement earlier this week as a reason for the disruptions. The messaging urged passengers to check the status of their flights before heading to the airport. On Friday, Spirit CEO Ted Christie told ABC News that a combination of weather and logistics delays eroded crew availabilities.
“They were in the wrong places at the wrong time,” Christie said. “And we needed to start to build that puzzle back together again. And, unfortunately, that takes our group a lot of time to do.”
That means, he told the network, more delays will take place in the coming days.
According to FlightAware, Spirit canceled 310 flights, or 39 percent of its schedule, as of Friday morning. On Thursday, 450 flights, or 56 percent, were scrubbed. That accounted for nearly 75 percent of all US cancellations, based on data from the global airline data tracker.
Even before noon PT Friday, the carrier had already canceled 19 flights for Saturday.
More than 30 of the cancellations for Thursday and Friday were for flights heading to McCarran, according to FlightAware. Dating back to Sunday, more than 140 Spirit flights to the Vegas airport weren’t made.
Spirit Departures Also an Issue in Las Vegas
But it’s not just people wanting to get to the Strip that are having issues. FlightAware indicates 31 flights out of McCarran have also been canceled from Thursday into early Saturday.
“We are seeing that this issue is about evenly impacting arrivals and departures at McCarran,” McCarran Public Information Administrator Joe Raichel told Casino.org Thursday.
According to traveler data from McCarran, nearly 2 million people have landed and departed from the Vegas airport through Spirit through June of this year. Only Southwest, with 5.6 million travelers, has handled more traffic.
Spirit has been the No. 2 carrier at LAS each year since 2019 when it served nearly 5.3 million flyers.
Earlier this year, the company added more flights to Las Vegas by establishing direct service in St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Louisville. And during its second-quarter earnings call last week, before the cancellations started to occur, Spirit Chief Commercial Officer Matt Klein told investment analysts the carrier planned to expand in Vegas in the weeks ahead.
“This year, we moved even more capacity into Las Vegas after Labor Day,” Klein said. “In fact, I think we’re up around eight or nine departures per day once you go from August to September. Now, we did that in anticipation of conference season starting to build back up in Las Vegas. So not just an extended leisure period, but also the anticipation of some of that building back up.”
Spirit wasn’t the only airline facing issues this week. American Airlines also was forced to cancel flights. But according to media reports, the country’s largest carrier – by both total passengers (215.2 million in 2019) and by fleet size (1,440 planes) – cited weather issues at its Dallas-Fort Worth hub that led to staffing issues.
However, unlike Spirit, it appears American’s issues are behind it. On Thursday, American canceled 58 flights representing 1 percent of its service on the day. American had 44 flights to Vegas canceled this week. However, only one of those happened Thursday and four took place Friday, according to FlightAware.
Titus: Demand for Air Travel “Underestimated”
The flight cancellations come as more Americans are ready to take to the skies and travel after COVID-19 essentially ground air service for most people last year. A Nevada congresswoman told Casino.org that it’s an issue of concern for her and her colleagues on Capitol Hill.
Many underestimated the pent-up desire for travel developed over a year and a half of virtual lockdown due to COVID-19,” said US Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nevada), who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus. “Now we’re seeing an incredibly busy summer travel period in which the TSA has reported screening a record number of individuals since the pandemic.”
She noted that passenger traffic through McCarran in June trailed June 2019 totals by only 19 percent. And those numbers included international flights, which have yet to take off post-COVID-19. While it shows that Nevada’s travel sector is recovering faster than expected, it’s not all good news.
“This is putting an enormous strain on airlines, which have significant challenges in bringing back staff who require FAA certification and training before returning to service,” Titus told Casino.org. “That process can take, in some cases, months to complete.”
Titus added that she and her fellow members in the Travel and Tourism Caucus and the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation are concerned about “traveler frustration” and have engaged airlines about that.
“It is important we address these concerns to keep our recovery on track,” she said.
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