Police Compassion

Unruly 86-year-old blind man grounds a Spirit flight for 10 hours: Inside a discount airline debacle

Unruly 86-year-old blind man grounds a Spirit flight for 10 hours: Inside a discount airline debacle

Spirit Airlines, airplane, jet, runway
Spirit Air made an emergency landing at IAH Sunday morning due to an unruly traveler. Passengers were kept in an un-air-conditioned plane for an hour before being brought into the terminal, where they waited for more than 10 hours. VATSIM.net

Spirit Airlines passengers on a red eye from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale spent the better part of 10 hours stranded at Bush Intercontinental on Sunday after an agitated octogenarian brought about an emergency landing in Houston.

"An 86-year-old man was in his seat on the plane when he began swinging his hands at passengers as they walked by," said spokesperson Kese Smith from the Houston Police Department (HPD), which was contacted around 4 a.m. to help apprehend the old man.

"The gentleman was partially blind and only spoke French. Through an interpreter, the man told officers that he became frightened at some point on the flight and started flailing his arms," Smith explained. HPD did not charge the elderly man, but did contact his son, who flew from Florida to retrieve his father. The two took a United flight to Fort Lauderdale later in the day.

“Spirit Airlines has a history of cruelty toward their passengers," Kate Hanni of the Flyers Rights consumer advocacy group told FoxNews in May. 

ABC News reported nightmarish conditions for the remaining 100-plus passengers, who were kept in the plane on the tarmac without air conditioning for an hour before being allowed into the IAH terminal. Spirit officials first told the group they'd be bused to Dallas, since the airline does not run a Houston to Fort Lauderdale flight.

KHOU noted that, for most of the day, the Spirit customers "were kept in the terminal with no food and no opportunity to ask questions or get answers." In the end, however, the company arranged for another plane and refunded fares for each passenger.

The travelers reached their Florida destination Sunday night just after 8 p.m. — 14 hours after the expected arrival time.

A rough year for Spirit

The headline-grabbing layover from hell comes less than a week after Spirit boldly revealed it will offer daily $29 flights between Bush Intercontinental and DFW starting in September. The special deal appeared to be a game-changer for the budget airline, which was gearing up to take on Southwest Airlines' growing domination of the Houston low-cost market.

Marred by record-breaking customer complains and a PR blunder in which it stubbornly refused to give a $197 refund to a U.S. veteran dying of cancer, Spirit appears to be continuing its reign as one the nation's most despicable carriers.

“Spirit Airlines has a history of cruelty toward their passengers," Kate Hanni of the Flyers Rights consumer advocacy group told FoxNews in May. "They continue to treat them like meat in a seat because their fares are so low they are confident people will continue to fly with them.”