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Spirit Airlines cancellations roil discount carrier's passengers

Spirit Airlines tumbled the most in nine months as hundreds of flight cancellations angered passengers and fueled chaos at the discount carrier’s home airport in Florida.

Videos posted to social media showed passengers screaming, pushing and shoving at one another, and clashing with law-enforcement officers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The altercations started after flight cancellations Monday night.

Spirit Airlines is one of two budget airlines that serve Niagara Falls International Airport. There were two Spirit Airlines flights at the Niagara County airport listed as cancelled Wednesday, including one arriving and one departing from Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Spirit blamed the Air Line Pilots Association for an “illegal work slowdown” that prompted 300 cancellations and the loss of $8.5 million over the past seven days, according to a lawsuit filed Monday against the labor union. The pilots’ group said it wasn’t engaged in a job action, adding that its members were trying to help restore operations.

The carrier had 37 cancellations by mid-morning Tuesday, following 65 on Monday, according to flight tracking service FlightAware.com. The shares fell 3.6 percent to $55.39 at 11:11 a.m. in New York after falling as much as 5.4 percent for the biggest intraday drop since August 2.

Spirit said it was “shocked and saddened” to see videos of the events at Fort Lauderdale.

“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,” the company said in a statement. “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.”

The pilots’ union, known as ALPA, disputed the allegations.

“ALPA and the Spirit pilots are continuing to do everything possible to help restore the company’s operations, which have experienced significant problems over the past several days,” the labor group said in a statement. “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 by Spirit Airlines.”

Spirit has only a single daily flight to many destinations, giving it few options when it needs to accommodate passengers after cancellations. That makes it more vulnerable than larger airlines to disruptions caused by labor tensions or operational issues with its fleet.

“Airlines typically prevail in such cases and we expect a return to somewhat normal conditions relatively soon,” Savanthi Syth, an analyst at Raymond James Financial Inc., said in a note to clients Tuesday.

– News staff contributed to this report.

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