Spirit asked flight attendants to volunteer at the Fort Lauderdale airport amid mass cancellations.
The Spirit COO later apologized to workers, saying the request was "insulting" and "poorly timed."
A union representative fired back at Spirit: "Why get abused for free when you can get paid for it?"
Spirit requested some flight attendants to volunteer during their days off as the company struggled with thousands of flight cancellations over the past week.
Deb Hanson and Rhonda Jordan, the directors of in-flight operations, asked Spirit flight attendants to volunteer at the Fort Lauderdale airport to help guests at kiosks and ticket counters, internal emails obtained by Insider showed. The email request did not clarify whether the volunteer shifts were paid or unpaid.
"You don't need additional security access or systems knowledge," the email read in part. "We simply need your willingness to help."
Teri Davison, a representative from the Spirit Airlines Association of Flight Attendants, sent a blistering email in response.
Spirit "has left you and your fellow flight attendants stranded in airports with their angry passengers for hours and even days on end," Davison wrote in an email obtained by Insider. "The company that wants you to sit on hold for hours on end, surpassing legal duty periods, and jeopardizing rest periods, invading on your days off without remorse. Now they want a favor?"
"Why get abused for free when you can get paid for it?" Davison wrote.
One Spirit staffer who received the volunteer request said she was left stranded by the airline in a major Northeastern city for four days during the cancellations. She said that at one point, a flight attendant drove for two hours to deliver food for the crew members stranded there.
"It was awful," the flight attendant said. She requested anonymity to speak freely about the situation, though her identity and employment were verified by Insider.
John Bendoraitis, Spirit's COO, later apologized for the email that requested flight attendants volunteer their time.
"The reason for this late evening email is to address an unfortunate email message from our team soliciting volunteers to help at the FLL airport," Bendoraitis wrote in a response viewed by Insider. He continued, "The message was poorly timed and insulting. There are no excuses - I'm very sorry and I apologize."
Spirit's mass cancellations were caused by a poorly timed combination of bad weather, system outages, and staffing issues. Cancellations persisted for seven days in a row as CEO Ted Christie promised to fix the airlines' underlying problems. On Tuesday, only 2% of Spirit flights were canceled, down from last week's high of 60%.
"There's definitely some angry people," Christie said on Thursday, CNBC reported. "Right now, all I can say is we're very sorry for what happened."
Spirit did not respond to Insider's request for comment.
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