JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines passengers have struggled to reach their destinations this weekend as the airlines canceled hundreds of flights due to staffing issues and bad weather in Florida late in the week.
The flight woes come as the airlines begin merger talks following JetBlue’s surprise bid for the budget airline on Tuesday. Spirit said it will entertain JetBlue’s offer while not abandoning its earlier deal to merge with fellow budget airline Frontier.
The two airlines, which were among the carriers with the heaviest cancellations a week ago as Florida weather woes disrupted travel throughout the country, have canceled a combined 254 Sunday flights after axing more than 300 flights on Saturday, according to flight tracker FlightAware. That’s more than half of all U.S. flight cancellations each day.
JetBlue canceled 18% of its Saturday flights and has canceled 13% of Sunday flights as of 2:30 p.m. ET. Spirit canceled 14% of its Saturday flights and has canceled 13% of its Sunday flights.
The troubles have spring break travelers scrambling to find new flights, in many cases the next day or later because weekend flights are packed, driving to their destination or canceling the trip.
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JetBlue’s woes prompted the airline’s president to send an apologetic email to employees late Saturday.
“We had some big news at JetBlue this week, and while that has rightly been the focus of a lot of buzz, I want to assure you our #1 priority right now is the operation,” Joanna Geraghty said. “You have been simply incredible under very difficult circumstances, and we want to thank you for all you are doing to take care of our Customers. We are letting you and our customers down, and that is not consistent with what we stand for.
Geraghty said poor weather and Air Traffic Control (ATC) delays have led to “cascading problems” this month. The flight cancellations and delays have put planes and flight crews out of place, worsening a staffing shortage. The airline has already hired 2,300 workers this year but is still short, Geraghty said.
“We are working around the clock to address some of the most difficult operating conditions we have ever faced as a company,” the memo said.
Spirit spokesperson Erik Hofmeyer said the budget airline is still struggling with flight cancellations as it recovers from poor weather and ATC issues on Thursday and Friday in Florida.
A quick fix is not expected as the airline industry adjusts to post-pandemic travel.
JetBlue plans to proactively cut flights for the rest of April to reduce last-minute cancellations that strand travelers, Geraghty said, and it also expects to reduce its summer flight schedule by at least 8% to 10% despite predictions of a surge in travel.
Are flights refunded if canceled?
Travelers whose flights are canceled by an airline, regardless of the reason, are due a refund not just a travel credit, per U.S. Department of Transportation regulations.
When it comes to reimbursement for hotel stays, meals, flights on another airline and other charges racked up during a flight cancellation or delay, however, there are no U.S. government regulations. Airline policies vary in these cases, dictated by legalese called a “Contract of Carriage.”
Late Saturday, for example, Spirit was handing out $21 food vouchers at Orlando International Airport in Florida after it canceled a number of late-night flights. The airline was directing travelers to a website to rebook hotels and recommending that travelers seek reimbursement through customer service.
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