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Spirit Airlines flight cancellations continue to frustrate passengers, but airline says it’s on track to resume normal operations

People stand in line to check in at the Spirit Airlines counter at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on May 9, 2017.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Flight cancellations continue to frustrate Spirit Airlines customers, days after service disruptions caused a brawl to break out at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

As many as 50 flights had been canceled Thursday as the airline recovers from what it has  called “a pervasive illegal work slowdown” by its pilots that led to hundreds of cancellations in the past week, and growing frustration at Spirit counters at airports across the United States.

Federal court orders Spirit pilots back to work after chaos at Fort Lauderdale airport

Spirit said Thursday it was on track to return to normal operations, saying pilots have been urged to resume picking up open flying time. The airline also said that it had reached an agreement with its pilots union to continue the status quo while the two sides continue contract negotiations and a contract is signed and ratified.

But the relief isn’t happening fast enough for passengers, who are reporting delays and cancellations with no advance notice from the airline. Some have begun calling for a boycott of Spirit.

An airline spokesman said Thursday’s cancellations were issued Wednesday to give passengers plenty of notice and help them find alternate travel. The airline is offering refunds and is rebooking passengers on other available flights, including other airlines, the spokesman said.

A federal court granted Spirit a temporary restraining order Tuesday, compelling the pilots’ union and its members to resume normal work schedules. By Thursday, the budget carrier and the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA) had agreed to extend that temporary restraining order until the two reach a labor agreement, and to remain in mediated contract negotiation, Spirit said. That agreement, the airline said, essentially ends Spirit’s quest for a preliminary injunction in federal court.

In the lawsuit filed Monday against the ALPA, Spirit said that it had to cancel about 300 flights, disrupting travel for more than 20,000 passengers and facing losses of $8.5 million.

It’s not all the airlines’ fault. Sometimes it’s the Ugly American traveler.

“On behalf of our customers and fellow Spirit team members, we really appreciate the effort of our pilots who are taking on open flying to restore the operation,” Spirit’s Chief Operating Officer John Bendoraitis said in a statement.

On Monday, frustrated passengers clashed with Spirit employees at Fort Lauderdale after nine Spirit flights were canceled and scores of passengers sought alternate travel.  Law enforcement officers tried to maintain order, but video from the airport showed crowds clustered around Spirit Airlines ticket counters, with people pushing, screaming and cursing.

At one point in one of the videos, a Broward County sheriff’s deputy was shoved to the ground. Sheriff’s deputies detained three passengers and charged them with disorderly conduct, according to arrest reports.

After images from Fort Lauderdale went viral, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the nation’s airline industry, spoke with the airline and union leadership and urged them to “get this thing fixed and get it fixed quick.”

What happened in Fort Lauderdale, Nelson said on the Senate floor Tuesday, “is just another example of passengers becoming sick and tired of what they perceive as mistreatment by airlines.

“I have no trouble in putting the airlines on notice if they can’t get their act together and start treating the flying public with respect rather than making them think that they are self-loading cargo, then this Congress is going to be forced to act,” he said.