Severe thunderstorms nationwide crippled a portion of Spirit Airlines’ flight staff causing a ripple effect at Myrtle Beach International Airport this week.
The delays, some reportedly three days long, come at the kick off of the summer tourist season along the Grand Strand for the airport’s largest airline.
Hundreds of passengers Wednesday watched as flights on Spirit Airlines to New York, Philadelphia and Chicago -- all popular return destinations for Myrtle Beach visitors -- go from delayed to, in some cases, canceled.
Paul Berry, spokesman for Spirit, said the delays and cancellations were caused by severe weather throughout the country that stalled pilots and flight attendants for up to three days.
“We have pilots who are in a city where the airports have been closed down,” Berry said. “They can’t get to certain cities to fly planes, so those flights have been canceled.”
Inclement weather in Chicago, Houston and Dallas were the culprits, Berry said.
“These are major crew stations for us and our pilots and flight attendants have, basically for the last four days, been stuck in those cities and are unable to get to those cities that they’re supposed to fly out of,” Berry said. “When that happens, we just cancel the flight because the plane can’t fly.”
Delays and cancellations were also reported in Las Vegas and Denver.
“It has put significant pressure on our network because we can’t get our crew to the cities where our flights are taking place,” Berry said.
Spirit is the dominant carrier in Myrtle Beach, making up 56 percent, or 179,323 of the passenger arrivals, at MYR through May this year.
Kirk Lovell, assistant director for the Myrtle Beach airport, said it is important for people to provide information to the airlines they are flying to avoid long stays at the airport during situations like Wednesday.
“It’s always important when someone is registering their airline ticket to register their name, their phone number, and their email address and the airline will actually send them notifications on flight delays and cancellations,” Lovell said.
Nicole Thompson of Myrtle Beach was traveling with her sister to LaGuardia on Wednesday morning when their Spirit flight was delayed and eventually canceled.
“We were going to visit family we haven’t seen in a while,” Thompson said. “We are going to see a Broadway play.”
Thompson and her sister weren’t quick enough to book connecting flights being offered out of MYR Wednesday, so they will try again Thursday.
“We’ve flown this every year since we were little,” Thompson said. “This hasn’t happened to us before, but apparently this has been happening all week.”
Deborah Moore of Little River was on her way to New York on Wednesday and decided to drive instead of waiting for a flight. She didn’t want to chance what happened another time she experienced a delay on Spirit. Then, she was flying Spirit with her grandchildren from LaGuardia to Myrtle Beach and was delayed five days before she decided to take a train part of the way then got a ride the rest of the trip.
“They couldn’t guarantee that we could get on that flight [Thursday] after trying three times,” Moore said.
Moore said this trip was a family trip to see her granddaughter’s recital, and she decided not to gamble on Spirit’s hour-and-a-half flight and opted to drive 12 hours.
“It’s Sunday so I have time to get there,” Moore said of the recital.
Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said he had a four-hour delay Monday evening from the weather and missed a connecting flight, forcing him to drive through the night to make a morning meeting.
“Regardless of the reason, flight delays can be a major hassle for travelers,” Dean said via email. “Our community strives to deliver a great vacation experience, so naturally we hate for the first or last impression of our destination to hinge upon a bad flight experience.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or on Twitter @TSN_JRodriguez.