A Spirit Airlines flight en route to Niagara Falls, N.Y. from Orlando, Fla. Sunday had to abort plans to land two times and it eventually left many passengers stranded in Cleveland, Ohio without their luggage.
Poor weather in Niagara Falls prevented Flight 210 from landing in upstate New York as scheduled.
“About two hours into the flight we could feel the plane doing large circles in the air and then the pilot mentioned we didn’t have clearance to land because of the extreme fog,” said Becky McDowall, a Brantford, Ont. nurse who was aboard the flight with her boyfriend.
McDowall said the Spirit flight diverted to Cleveland and passengers disembarked for about an hour. Then, the plane took off again for its destination.
She said many of the passengers weren’t reassured by the captain’s comments prior to take off the second time.
“You know, the weather is better in Niagara. The fog has lifted and we’re going to go ahead and give it our best shot,” the captain said, according to McDowall.
She said the pilot pulled the plane up on final approach while over the runway.
“The first person to speak to us was the cabin steward who said we were 50 feet from the runway and the pilot still couldn’t see it so he shot us back into the air,” said McDowall.
Canadian Karolyn Soltis was also on board the flight with her husband and one child.
“That was terrifying. A lot of people were very frightened,” said Soltis.
She said she still would like to know why the airplane attempted to make it to Niagara Falls in such bad weather.
“I really feel like that put a lot of lives at risk. If that pilot didn’t make the smart decision to pull up, we don’t know if we’d be here today,” said Soltis.
Back in Cleveland for the second time, McDowall says Spirit Airlines gave passengers an ultimatum: Re-board the aircraft and return to Orlando or get off. She said the airline refused to offload passenger baggage.
“The police were called because people were very upset and people were like … we need our luggage,” McDowall told Global News.
Her luggage is now in Florida. Although she said Spirit Airlines promised to have it delivered to her home.
Spirit, whose slogan is “less money, more go,” is a discount carrier that offers extremely low-cost flights. However, it charges for baggage, reserved seats and even printed boarding passes.
The airline is a favourite of many Canadian travellers to the U.S. because of its low prices and its proximity to the U.S.-Canada border.
A Spirit Airlines representative told Global News the pilot correctly aborted the second landing because he could not see the runway 500 feet above the ground.
“There was a Spirit Airlines failure getting the bags off the plane,” spokesman Paul Berry acknowledged.
“They were not offloaded as they were supposed to have been. We definitely made a mistake there.”
Berry said the airline will be refunding “the entire costs of the flight and bag fees incurred to the customers who chose to stay in Cleveland.”
Both McDowall and Soltis chose to rent cars in Cleveland for the return trip to Niagara Falls.
“It was not worth the cheap flight,” said McDowall.
“If we just put that money toward a more reputable company we wouldn’t have had this nightmare.”
Katherine Aylesworth contributed to this report.