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Software problems strand passengers of discount airline
(IDG) -- A problematic conversion to a new software system for managing staffing and other business activities ground flight operations at Spirit Airlines Inc. to a halt last week, resulting in the stranding of passengers in cities such as New York, Detroit and Palm Beach, Fla.
The systemwide tie-up forced the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based discount airline to book all available hotel rooms in many markets and to institute a nationwide disaster response program.
A Spirit spokeswoman said the new software was turned on during the holidays and, in combination with inclement weather in parts of the country, led to numerous delays and cancellations of the airline's flights. Part of the problem with the conversion was a lack of familiarity with the new system on the part of Spirit employees, she said.
Henry Harteveldt, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., who follows the travel industry, faulted Spirit for its timing. "You never want to do a cutover to a new software system during a peak travel period," he said.
Harteveldt added that such conversions require proper testing, soft launches, employee training and -- after all that has been done -- detailed disaster planning. "You don't mess around with technology," he said. "It is not kind to the people who don't understand it."
Steven Coleman, a spokesman for the New York & New Jersey Port Authority, said Spirit passengers had been stranded up to four days as the airline struggled to find pilots, attendants and baggage handlers to man its flights. At one point, New York police were called to LaGuardia Airport in order to calm an unruly crowd of disgruntled passengers.
"There were some near fistfights between some of the passengers who'd just had enough," Coleman said. The Port Authority is now considering the revocation of Spirit's landing permits at LaGuardia and at Newark International Airport, he added.
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