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By Gina Cherelus
(Reuters) - Spirit Airlines Inc passengers brawled in a Florida airport late on Monday after the carrier, which is in dispute with its pilots, cancelled several flights leading to chaos and three arrests.
The flight cancellations at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport were just the latest of hundreds the airline has made in recent weeks. The carrier blames what it says is an unlawful work slowdown by its pilots.
The company's shares were down 3.4 percent in midday trading on Tuesday at $55.43.
"We are shocked and saddened to see the videos of what took place," Spirit spokesman Paul Berry said in a statement.
Footage of the fights spread widely on social media, creating the latest in a string of public relations headaches for U.S. airlines.
That began on April 9 when a United Airlines passenger was dragged off a flight in Chicago after refusing to give up his seat. He later reached a settlement with United.
American Airlines Group Inc also came under fire last month when a video showing an onboard clash over a baby stroller went viral.
Last week, Delta Air Lines Inc apologised after a couple with two toddlers were kicked off an overbooked flight.
Berry said Spirit's pilots were engaged in an "unlawful job action," or strike, and that the airline has sued the pilots' union to protect their customers and operations.
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the pilots' union, said the Spirit pilots it represents did not take part in any action, and that its members were working to try to restore the company's operations.
"While we will continue these efforts, we will actively defend the association, its officers and its member pilots against the unwarranted and counterproductive legal action ... by Spirit Airlines," ALPA said in a statement on Tuesday.
At least 11 Spirit flights were cancelled at Fort Lauderdale airport on Monday and 31 delayed, according to FlightAware data.
Hundreds of Spirit flights have been cancelled in recent days, Berry said. On Tuesday, the airline filed for a temporary restraining order against ALPA.
Broward County Sheriff's deputies responded to the incident at the airport as about 500 passengers became irate, police said. Video showed people falling down fighting as security officials tried to restrain them.
Three people were arrested for threatening to harm airline employees and challenging them to fight, police said, adding the trio had made the crowd become "increasingly aggressive."
(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Bill Rigby)