Judge forces Spirit Airlines pilots to work after cancellations fuel brawl

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- At the Spirit Airlines ticket counter, fists and bodies were about the only things flying Monday night.

The brawl erupted after a week of canceled flights at four Spirit airport hubs across the country, leaving passengers stranded and their patience short.

"Very angry angry angry people. Everybody had places to be and couldn't be there," said Debbie McGrandy, who had three flights canceled.

Spirit is blaming a pilot work slowdown, due to a contract dispute, for the disruption. In a lawsuit, the airline says it has had to cancel 300 flights over the last week, including 39 on Tuesday, impacting some 20,000 passengers and costing them $8.5 million in lost revenue.

A federal judge issued an order Tuesday to the Spirit Airlines pilots to stop the work slowdown.

For its part, the pilots association says it was not conducting a work slowdown and is working with the airline to resume normal operations.

At Fort Lauderdale's airport on Tuesday it was calmer, but passengers were still frustrated.

From United to Delta to American, on board and in the terminal, the tensions between airlines and passengers have reached a tipping point for the industry.

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Charles Leocha

CBS News

"They cannot go on with this kind of news day after day, problem after problem," said Charles Leocha, president of the passenger advocacy group Travelers United.

The group says airlines need to refocus on customer service as a top priority.

"All the way from the CEO to the gate agent. Right now the airlines are thinking about one thing, and that's profits," Leocha said.

"This is not a customer service issue, this is a pilot issue, pilots refusing to work, and fly their flights," said Spirit Airlines spokesman Paul Berry.