[UPDATED] Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Spirit Airlines’ request for a temporary restraining order compelling its pilots to cease what the ultra low-cost carrier (ULCC) called “a pervasive illegal work slowdown” has been granted by a US federal court.

Spirit filed a lawsuit May 8 in a US district court in Fort Lauderdale against the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents Spirit’s nearly 1,600 pilots, asking for a “preliminary injunction compelling an immediate end to this illegal work slowdown” that the airline said has cost it $8.5 million in lost revenue since the beginning of the month.

After granting the temporary restraining order, the court ordered a motion for a hearing on a preliminary injunction. The hearing will be held May 15.

Spirit said 15% of its flights have been affected this month by the alleged work action. “We sincerely apologize to our customers for the disruption and inconveniences they have suffered,” Spirit said in a statement after the temporary restraining order was granted. “We believe this is the result of intimidation tactics by a limited number of our pilots affecting the behavior of the larger group.”

Flight cancellations at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) on May 8 led to a chaotic situation in which police were called to the scene to quell an uproar by upset passengers. Video widely shared on social media shows pushing and shoving near a Spirit check-in counter at FLL and police intervening.  

A Spirit spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the airline was “shocked and saddened to see the videos” of disorder at FLL. “This is a result of unlawful labor activity by some Spirit pilots designed to disrupt Spirit operations for our customers, by canceling multiple flights across our network,” the spokesperson said.

In an emailed statement, ALPA said the union and “the Spirit pilot group it represents are not engaged in a job action. Rather, ALPA and the Spirit pilots are continuing to do everything possible to help restore the company’s operations, which have experienced significant problems over the past several days. While we will continue these efforts, we will actively defend the association, its officers and its member pilots against the unwarranted and counterproductive legal action brought [May 8] by Spirit Airlines.”

After the court issued the temporary restraining order, ALPA stated: “Spirit pilots are committed to helping impacted passengers and the company restore normal operations … The court has spoken and Spirit pilots will fully comply with the order handed down, which is completely in line with our overriding goal: the resumption of normal operations. We call on the company to join forces with ALPA and the Spirit pilots to do just that.”  

Spirit and its pilots have been engaged in collective bargaining negotiations since February 2015. The pilots’ labor contract became amendable on July 31, 2015. In a statement issued earlier this year, ALPA said Spirit pilots’ compensation “lags far behind their peers at comparable airlines, and that gap continues to grow as other pilot groups reach new agreements.”

In the May 8 lawsuit, Spirit said ALPA “expressed its strong displeasure” with a company proposal made on April 25. Days later, “Spirit began to see a significant increase” in flight cancellations attributed to “pilot unavailability,” the airline stated in the lawsuit.

Aaron Karp aaron.karp@penton.com