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Spirit Airlines will remain after requesting temporary halt in service to Austin airport

The airline filed the request with the U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: The video published above is an early April report about the decline in air travel.

Low-cost air carrier Spirit Airlines will continue to service guests after requesting a temporary suspension of service to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Spirit, like other airlines, is in survival mode, which has necessitated temporarily discontinuing service,” attorneys for the airline wrote in the filing.

Under the CARES Act, approved by Congress in late March, airlines are only eligible for stimulus money if they continue to maintain regular service to the cities they normally would – but airlines can request an exemption from the service obligation.

Austin is one of 26 cities the airline requested to halt service to during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the filing.

“Requiring Spirit to continue to operate three flights a week to these cities will rapidly exhaust Spirit’s financial resources and manpower, while adding virtually nothing to those cities' access to air transportation at this time,” the Spirit filing said.

Air travel across the country has taken a major hit as fewer people are flying during the coronavirus outbreak.

On April 1, 943 people flew out of Austin’s airport. The Transportation Security Administration screened 136,023 flyers across the country that day, compared to 2,151,626 on the same weekday in 2019.

Spirit’s request was under review by the Department of Transportation, which considered input from interested parties and allowed time for a response from the airline.

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“Requiring Spirit to continue to serve these cities when, unlike larger carriers, it relies almost exclusively on independent contractors (for which Spirit receives no employee grant money) at these airports will harm Spirit’s ability to restore service as the pandemic ends and deny consumers the low fare service Spirit wants to bring back to the public,” the filing said.

On April 16, USDOT decided Spirit will have to continue serving AUS if it wants CARES Act funding. More from the filing can be seen below:

"For the remaining covered points, with exceptions noted below for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, we deny Spirit’s request. The Department is authorized to require air carriers receiving financial assistance under sections 4005 and 4114 of the CARES Act to maintain scheduled air transportation service as the Secretary deems necessary. By Order 2020-4-2, the Department modified its original methodology to address concerns raised by interested parties and to appropriately balance the needs of communities to retain at least minimal connections to the national air transportation system during the public health emergency, as required by the CARES Act, and the economic needs of certain segments of the industry. Spirit has not persuaded the Department that we must strike a different balance with respect to the remaining covered points in Spirit’s request. Order 2020-4-2 provides substantial flexibilities to covered carriers. As noted above, Spirit stated that it suspended operations, on April 8, 2020, to 26 of the points for which it sought relief in this proceeding. In view of our action here, Spirit must resume services to these points (with the exception of Aguadilla, PR), consistent with the provisions of its Service Obligation and Ordering Paragraph 5 of Order 2020-4- 2, within 7 business days of receiving financial assistance under the CARES Act, except as noted below. With respect to Spirit’s request to suspend service to Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted, VI, we are deferring action."

A spokesperson for Spirit released the following statement:

"We’re thankful for the expeditious review of our temporary waiver requests as part of the minimum service requirements included in the CARES Act. We also appreciate the waiver for Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico (BQN). We will fully comply with the U.S. Department of Transportation requirements and will continue to take care of our guests during this unprecedented time."

Spirit Airlines started operating at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in February 2019. According to the airport’s website, Spirit serves 13 destinations from Austin.

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