Spirit flight attendants picket at Detroit Metro after 'sleeping on floors'

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Unionized flight attendants with Spirit Airlines Inc. on Tuesday picketed outside Detroit Metropolitan Airport, demanding the Florida-based low-cost carrier uphold its end of their contract by providing hotel accommodations and better communications in the event of cancelled flights.

Spirit Airlines flight attendants Lisa Denback, Dearborn and Niki Marcero of Ypsilanti join fellow flight attendants to protest working conditions, Tuesday morning, April 19, 2022, outside the Evans Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

Spirit Airlines canceled more than 30% of their flights nationally earlier this month along with other major airlines amid severe weather in the southeast United States, airspace congestion and technology issues. It was Spirit's fourth mass cancellation since August, according to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which leaves both passengers and crew members stranded, even for days.

"It's very frustrating," said Deb Crowley, a flight attendant for 24 years and president of the Spirit AFA Local 76 representing Detroit and Atlantic City, New Jersey. "They have nowhere to go, no hotel to stay in. We've had flight attendants sleeping on floors being stranded for 20 to 30 hours."

The demonstration is another example of a surge in activity by the labor movement in recent months by workers empowered by companies challenged to find new employees, growing corporate profits, renewed respect for essential workers and a sympathetic presidential administration. Spirit flight attendants also demonstrated last week in Dallas, Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida.

"We are grateful for our incredible Spirit Family, and we’re committed to finding ways to better support our Team Members and address the issues of most importance to them," Spirit spokesman Erik Hofmeyer said in a statement. "We’ve been through so much together throughout the pandemic, and we are committed to making the necessary investments to build a stronger and more resilient airline for both our Team Members and Guests."

Crowley said the union is in contact with the employer to provide suggestions and solutions for when meltdowns occur. The recent regularity of the cancellations and flight attendants having to wait hours to hear from the cancellation team, however, has workers fed up.

"We get our schedules a month ahead of time," Crowley said. "If I'm working for three days, I pack clothing, medication, everything I need for three days. If it becomes six, that affects our lives, our health, our families. We want the general public to know what is happening."

Flight attendants stood outside the Evans Terminal, bundled in the chilly, 40-degree weather, holding yellow signs reading "Think it's bad flying Spirit? Try working here" and "Contract violations must end now" as some vehicles honked in support.

Spirit Airlines flight attendants, from left, Katie Hice of Toledo, Vilija Telycenas of Monroe and Matt Blauvelt of West Bloomfield protest the airline's working conditions, Tuesday morning, April 19, 2022, outside the Evans Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The protest comes on the heels of the airline's recent operational meltdowns and mass cancellations.

Vilija Telycenas, 55, of Monroe, said she was left forgotten for five days with a dozen others in August after flights were cancelled out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There, the 15-year flight attendant found the crew room packed with no room to sit after flying in from Detroit.

Left without word from the cancellation team that management told her would contact her as her contract maximum of 16 hours on duty approached, Telycenas leveraged her contacts in the city to find rooms for the stranded employees at a non-crew hotels. Despite messages sent to management, the group didn't hear anything for five days, resulting in "no-shows" for subsequent assigned flights out of cities they weren't in.

"I found us our rooms," Telycenas, vice president of the Spirit AFA Local 76, said as she held a sign reading, "Stranded for 3 days without a hotel and no answers? Us too.

 "We sat there five days at that hotel. Nobody heard anything from anyone. That's not our job. We have a job. We are aviation's first responders. Safety is our first priority."

The company did reimburse Telycenas for the hotel, and the no shows were removed from the record. But the experience highlights the need for a better response from the company, the flight attendants said.

"This is why we need a union," said Lannette Klingler, 60, a flight attendant from Carleton. "We need to have a safe place to go."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble