Passengers upset after 24-hour delay

By Carlos Suarez, Reporter, csuarez@local10.com
Published On: Jul 08 2012 06:36:41 PM EDT
Updated On: Jul 09 2012 06:05:48 PM EDT

Passengers say they believe an 81-year-old man who caused a disturbance that resulted in a flight diversion and several-hour delay should not have been allowed to fly unaccompanied in the first place.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -

Passengers onboard a Spirit Airlines flight landed in South Florida nearly a day after taking off from Los Angeles.

Flight 310 departed LAX at 10 p.m. PST Saturday night, but was forced to make an emergency landing in Houston at 4 a.m. due to an unruly passenger.

The 86-year-old man, who is blind and speaks only French, was swinging his arms at passengers when they walked past his seat. He was taken into custody, but later released. The pilot decided not to press charges, so police are not releasing his name.

Houston police said with the aid of an interpreter, the man told them he had become frightened, and that's why he started swinging his arms at passengers.

Police contacted the man's family, and arrangements were made for the man's son to fly from Los Angeles to Houston and accompany his father on a different flight to Fort Lauderdale.

Meanwhile, passengers of Flight 310 said they were kept in the plane on the tarmac for two hours without air conditioning until they were allowed off. Once at the terminal, the airline said passengers would be bused the five hours to Dallas to catch another flight.

Spirit Airlines does not fly to Fort Lauderdale from Houston.

Irate passengers began yelling and screaming. One passenger recorded the confrontation on a cellphone camera.

"It was terrible. It was unreal. It was painful," said passenger Theresa Shaviano.

Passenger Nicki Pierson said she and the other passengers were irate not only because of the delay but because the airline had allowed the unruly passenger to fly alone despite the language barrier.

"They could have said, 'Hey, does anybody speak French?' and I think it could have been taken care of. I think nobody really knew what was going on. They kept everyone in the dark. They said, 'We're landing for unforeseen reasons.' They said, 'We're fueling up. We'll be taking off soon.' And then another hour waited, 'Oh, this is what we're going to do,'" Pierson said.

Spirit Airlines said time constraints with the crew prevented them from allowing the original flight to take off from Houston.

The airline eventually decided to fly in another plane. The passengers arrived in South Florida about 8 p.m. Sunday.

Spirit released a statement, saying, "We understand that this has been an inconvenience for our customers, but the safety of our customers is always the top priority. All customers are being given full refunds for this inconvenience."

The airline also said it would refund the passengers' baggage fees. It also picked up the cost to rebook customers who missed connecting flights to Cancun and South America.

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