Because it is small, you may not have heard that Florida-based Spirit Airlines has been shut down since Saturday. After more than three years of negotiations and a federally mandated 30-day cooling-off period, Spirit’s approximately 450 pilots walked off the job. The airline then abruptly canceled all of its 150 or so daily flights and has been grounded ever since. As of Tuesday afternoon, Spirit said service through Thursday was canceled.
But “small” is a term of art in the airline business. Spirit represents about 1 percent of the nation’s commercial-aviation capacity, which translates into a not insubstantial 15,000-plus passengers a day. Since the strike began, that means around 100,000 passengers have been stranded. And stranded is the operative word, since Spirit has taken the extraordinary step of abandoning its customers wherever they last flew them, maximizing their financial and transportation pain and blithely playing just inside the regulatory margins.
Even by the fast-and-loose standards of today’s airline industry, Spirit’s actions during and in the run-up to the strike is startling for its insensitivity to customers and disregard for the conventions of ethical business practices. For years, Spirit has operated as the P.T. Barnum of airlines—the carrier’s management believes there’s a bargain-hunting sucker born every minute—but its reaction to the strike has appalled even the most cynical observers of the airline scene.