Airline Service Suffers During Holidays

Former baseball star Dwight Gooden is shown in this Hillsborough County Sheriff's booking photograph, Tuesday March 14, 2006. Gooden was arrested Tuesday in Tampa, Fla., on charges of violating the terms of his probation. (AP Photo/Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office)
AP/Hillsborough Co. Sheriff Office
Thousands of Delta Air Lines flights around the country have been delayed or canceled because of bad weather or staffing shortages, with pilots refusing to work overtime during ongoing contract negotiations.

Travelers using Spirit Airlines also faced long waits because of the weekend snowstorm in the East. Some Detroit passengers said they were delayed three days, Detroit Metropolitan Airport spokesman Mike Conway said. New York-area flights at Newark International and LaGuardia also were disrupted.

On Wednesday, the airline was still working to place passengers on other flights.

"They've been having really long lines, because they've been re-accommodating people," Conway said.

More than 2,000 Delta flights were canceled between Dec. 28 and Jan. 1, airline spokeswoman Cindi Kurczewski said Tuesday. Crew shortages were responsible for nearly half of the 7,500 flight cancellations last month, she said.

As Florida passengers discovered they would have to wait for days -- in some cases a week -- to get home, some rented cars to get home.

"Never. Never again will I fly during the holidays," said Deborah Maxner, who was rebooked on another Delta flight out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Tuesday after her family had to shell out $1,200 on hotel rooms.

"It was an expensive way to end a vacation," she said.

The East Coast storm that hit during the holidays compounded ongoing staffing problems for the Atlanta-based airline.

Since November, pilots have been refusing to work overtime until their union reached a new contract with the airline. A federal judge turned down Delta's request to force the pilots to work overtime during negotiations.

The Air Line Pilots Association denies organizing an anti-overtime campaign. The union's spokeswoman, Karen Miller, said pilots are just choosing not to fly on their days off.

Both sides resume negotiations Thursday.

Spirit flights were delayed because of regulations requiring that crew members rest for specific periods, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

"Due to delays (and) weather, they did run out of crew time," said Elizabeth Isham Corey, a spokeswoman for the FAA's Great Lakes Regional Center in Chicago.

Mark S. Kahan, Spirit's chief operating officer, said the airline was doing its best.

"Our teams have been focused around the clock on avoiding problems where possible as well as solving current situations," Kahan said in a statement Tuesday. "We are adding hundreds of additional seats above and beyond our normal operating capacity to get each of our passengers home as soon as possible."

Michael Schwartzberg, a spokesman for the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based airline, said there were 29 takeoffs and landings at Detroit on Tuesday. He said Wednesday that Spirit was still trying to restore normal service.

Spirit Airlines has service in major northern and midwestern cities, Floria, South Carolina and California.

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