Chaos ensued Monday night, May 8, at Fort Lauderdale Airport in Florida, as Spirit Airlines canceled multiple flights, leaving hundreds of travelers stranded in Broward County.
Irritation escaladed to the point where it gave rise to altercations between angry passengers and staff members. The latter had no choice but to call the police, which intervened to calm the violent brawl and eventually made three arrests.
Riot Charges For The Arrested Passengers
A few tense customers quickly turned into a crowd of about 500 "enraged, fearful, or visually upset" people, according to an arrest report, which mentions the incident "resembled the start of a riot."
Punches were thrown, screams wailed through the terminal — currently under construction — while the airline's ticket counters were taken by storm by a swarm of distraught travelers, who waited up to three hours to find out the reason their flight was canceled.
Dozens of passengers were left with no option but to sleep on the cold floor of terminal 4, reports NBC.
The three people who were arrested — two men and one woman — face charges of riot incite or encouraging a riot, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and trespassing after warning, according to Broward Sheriff's Office.
Why The Spirit Airlines Flights Were Canceled
The cause of the cancellations has something to do with an ongoing labor dispute between Spirit Airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA). The airline's pilots are trying to renegotiate their contracts, which they argue don't measure up to the industry's standards.
On the day of the incident, the airline filed a federal lawsuit against the ALPA, asserting its pilots are engaging in a "pervasive illegal work slowdown" that caused hundreds of flight cancellations and disrupted travel for more than 20,000 passengers in the past week.
In the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of the South District of Florida, Spirit Airlines claims the company was forced to cancel roughly 300 flights since the beginning of the month, with 81 flights being grounded solely on Sunday.
An additional 28 flights were canceled by Tuesday morning, May 9, because of the conflict between the pilots and their airline.
The court pronounced its verdict on Tuesday afternoon, ruling in favor of the airline and issuing a temporary restraining order, which compelled the union pilots to resume their work duties.
"We sincerely apologize to our customers for the disruption and inconveniences they have suffered. 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 also shocked and saddened by the events that took place yesterday at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and at other airports across our network," said Paul Berry, spokesperson for the airline.
"We are hopeful that we can put this moment behind us and get back to serving our customers," Berry added.