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New Day Sunday

Florida Breaks Pandemic Record For COVID-19 Hospitalization; Spirit Airlines Cancels 22 Percent of Flights On Saturday After Week Of Cancelations And Delays, Dixie Fire Scorches Northern California. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired August 08, 2021 - 06:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. I'm Boris Sanchez.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Boris. I'm Christi Paul.

We're talking about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's lawyer because she's talking, firing back at allegations that he sexually harassed 11 women, and slamming the report into his behavior as shoddy and biased. We have more on her response and the criminal case involving the governor.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Plus, even as the Delta variant is spreading, COVID-19 survivors are gathering in cities across the country remembering those lost to the pandemic. You'll hear from one woman whose husband is still fighting for his life right now.

PAUL: And stranded. Yes, Spirit airlines cancels more flights. Passengers are so frustrated. They are stuck in airports. What you can do if you find yourself in a similar situation.

SANCHEZ: And frightening behavior. That's how firefighters are describing the Dixie fire, which is burning mostly unchecked and prompting more evacuations. NEW DAY starts right now.

PAUL: Well, thank you so much for keeping us company this morning. It is Sunday, August 8th. You are up early, but we are grateful for it. Hey, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Hey, good morning, Christi. Always great to be with you.

PAUL: You, as well. So, let's talk about the attorney for embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo forcefully pushing back on sexual harassment claims detailed in that recently released report.

SANCHEZ: In a one on one interview with CNN Attorney Rita Glavin signaled that Cuomo intends to continue to fight the allegations and she railed against the New York attorney general's report that found that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RITA GLAVIN, ATTORNEY OF GOVERNOR CUOMO: That report is shoddy, it is biased, it omits evidence, and it was an ambush, and they haven't shared all of their evidence.

Here's the thing. From his perspective, and I do think you are going to hear this from him, he didn't believe it was inappropriate.


SANCHEZ: The governor has denied the allegations and while he appears to be preparing for a long legal fight, his political career is also under pressure. There are growing calls for Governor Cuomo to resign. They are growing louder and louder by the day and they are coming from leaders within his own party.

PAUL: President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, they are among the Democratic heavy hitters who've already said Cuomo should step down. Now on top of that the state legislature is set to move ahead with impeachment proceedings.

SANCHEZ: Yes. One of Governor Cuomo's accusers is now taking her claims against him to the next level.

PAUL: The aide who says the governor groped her has filed a criminal complaint. We have details for you from CNN correspondent Polo Sandoval now.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christi and Boris, yesterday we were there as the Albany County sheriff publically addressed that criminal complaint that was filed against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday. The sheriff saying only that it was sexual in nature, the actual complaint itself, and wouldn't go into great details saying that the investigation is still in its very preliminary stages here.

At the same time, CNN speaking to the attorney of that complainant and does confirmed that she is in fact the woman who has referred to as executive assistant number one in that attorney general report from the New York state attorney general that was released on Tuesday, which 11 women are coming forward with these allegations of sexual harassment against Governor Cuomo.

Sheriff Craig Apple saying that we can expect from here on is for the investigation to basically follow just what they usually do in these kinds of cases. Assigning it to a team of investigators that specialize in this case. I want you to hear directly from Sheriff Craig Apple who says that simply because the governor is a target of this investigation it does not mean that they will either rush or delay this case.


SHERIFF CRAIG APPLE, ALBANY COUNTY, NEW YORK: I had a female victim come forward which had to be the hardest thing she has ever done in her life and make an allegation of criminal conduct against the governor. I have a young lady that came in who is alleging that she was victimized and we're going to do everything in our powers to help her.


SANDOVAL: The sheriff also told us that if this investigation does lead them to charges, then the governor could potentially face misdemeanor charges as part of this investigation. But again, still in its very early stages in this point.

Andrew Cuomo still continues to deny these allegations, his legal team even going as far as to attack the attorney general's report that was released on Tuesday. But, in the meantime, all of this really speaking to the possible criminal consequences that the governor may face in addition to everything else, including those impeachment efforts that have been led by Democrats here in Albany to actually get him out of office. Christi and Boris.


PAUL: All right. Thank you so much, Polo.

So let's talk about the possible legal consequences facing Governor Cuomo with CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney our own Joey Jackson. Joey, good to see you so early in the morning. Thanks for getting up for us.

So we know the governor has been accused as we just said in that criminal complaint. Now, that's the first one we know of. We don't know if more are coming. But talk to us about the significance of that and what we should be watching for.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, Christi, good morning to you. And so here is the significance. What happens is is that under New York state law there are really two statutes at issue. Both of them are misdemeanors.

Before I go on, what does that mean? Misdemeanor is a crime that's punishable by up to a year. A felony, of course, being distinguishable because it's punishable by a year up to life. We're not in that zone. We're in misdemeanor zone.

In New York misdemeanors are classified in two ways, there's an "A" misdemeanor, as I noted up to a year, and then there is a "B" misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days. Why do I make those distinctions? Because the conduct as alleged would fall into those two categories.

What am I speaking about? The "A" misdemeanor, Christi, would relate to what we call forcible touching. What does that mean? It means and is defined by squeezing, groping, pinching, conduct wherein it's -- would be sexual in nature, but it would have to be done for the purpose of degrading a woman or for the purposes of sexual gratification. That would be the "A" misdemeanor, which would -- if true, the allegations could potentially meet, right, by the woman who went forward in Albany.

The second classification would be sexual contact without consent. That's a "B" misdemeanor. And so that's the exposure that the governor will be looking at from a criminal perspective if the allegations ultimately were found to be met by probable cause. A criminal complaint was made out, he was arrested and the process will begin.

PAUL: OK. So, to that I want to listen with you to his attorney, Rita Glavin, who is talking to our own Pamela Brown last night. Take a listen.


GLAVIN: I would find it very difficult to believe that the assembly of the state of New York would impeach Governor Cuomo for kissing a woman at a wedding that he officiated in front of dozens of people and staffers.

You have to look at what each of these people are saying and what each of these people are saying are not sexual harassment. The point that I was making yesterday is not that 11 women are lying. I have never said that. I think a number of these women are telling the truth.


PAUL: So, when you hear her say she thinks a number of these women are telling the truth on the surface it sounds pretty damning, but what is the potency of this argument that some of his behavior simply didn't fall into the realm of sexual harassment per its definition?

JACKSON: So I think it's very important that a distinction be made between, of course, the civil context of sexual harassment and the criminal context, right? Both being, obviously, unacceptable, both of course in any work environment you shouldn't be subjected to a hostile environment. Sexual harassment shouldn't occur.

However, in the event it does we have to distinguish between what I spoke to about a moment ago which is forcible touching, sexual contact, and then the other issue as it relates to creating hostile work environments, right? But then you have to parse this further.

And what she was doing, that is, his attorney, was doing just that, right? Is it sexual harassment in the civil context even, forgetting about criminal, when you kiss someone at a wedding when perhaps you spin someone in dance pose that they feel uncomfortable with, when you're looking at their necklace and they presume that you are looking down their blouse?

And so, therefore, I think that's what she is saying. Like, you know, just wait a second, and if it's conduct that's unacceptable, let's hold him accountable. But if it's conduct that's not unacceptable or perhaps he was not aware that he was engaged in inappropriate behavior then might we not draw the line there. And I think that's what she was trying to say during the interview and that's what she did say with Pamela Brown.

PAUL: OK. Yes. So intention versus I didn't know that it was going to be received this way, I guess, kind of thing.


PAUL: So we need to point out too when she spoke publicly, the attorney, Attorney Glavin, on Friday, ruffled a lot of feathers, made some people uncomfortable, sounded like she was victim blaming some of these women that have come forward. Let's listen to her address that last night as well.


GLAVIN: How is it blaming the victim to defend your client? For the governor to deny what she has claimed is not victim blaming.


What I am doing is telling everybody that that report is shoddy, it is biased, it omits evidence, and it was an ambush, and they haven't shared all of their evidence.


PAUL: So two issues there, one, the victim blaming, two, what she is getting at is I'm not blaming the victims, I am talking about how she calls it shoddy, this investigation was. Do you see any credence to what she is alleging there?

JACKSON: So there could be and let's address that. The first issue is I think we have to be very careful to otherwise assess and look at someone and say, hey, you are victim blaming when you are scrutinizing the evidence.

We as attorneys and defense attorneys in particular have a right to assess the credibility of victims, have a right to vet what victims say, have a right to examine motivations and other issues which might cause a witness to either, A, be misrepresenting, fabricating or doing something else. And so when you challenge that, we are in a dangerous zone when simply because you challenge evidence that's you're -- that's being posed against your client, oh, you are victim blaming. No. I am holding people accountable for attempting to hold me accountable or my client accountable. So that's the one issue.

Pivoting to the second issue with respect to the investigation, I think it's also dangerous when we allow a person to put together a report. I have known Miss James for 20 years, confident, able, intelligent, a superstar, no doubt. She didn't do the investigation. She appointed it elsewhere.

So now we have to look at who are those parties who conducted the investigation. Are they objective? Have they had preformed notions? And we as attorneys challenge investigatory reports all the time.

It's not that a prosecutor or any other entity puts out a report and we say, OK, we are defense attorneys, nothing to see here, let's turn the page. No. What did those investigators do? What's in the report? Was everybody interviewed and evaluated? Was there corroboration? How accurate is that corroboration? Were there issues that were left out that should be in there? So, I think, that's all fair game. And all I'm saying is this, at the end of the day the governor deserves his day in court. Sexual harassment is offensive, it's wrong. As I noted, it shouldn't occur. But if you are saying it did, that person, even if there is a report that is as damning as that report, has a right, whether they are the governor or anyone else, to pick apart that report, state their point of view, and have people reserve judgment until everything is heard, they air what their grievances are and then a determination is made.

That's how the process works. That's how it should work for the governor. That's how it should work for anyone else.

Last point, I am never for treating someone who's rich and powerful any better than anyone else. But, I think, if we treat them worse then we go against the whole notion of our system. Everyone has to be treated fairly and equally whether you're disenfranchised or whether you're the governor of New York. And that's what should happen here.

PAUL: Very well said. Joey Jackson, on fire this morning early at 6:12 on a Sunday morning. So good so have you with us, Joey. Thank you.

JACKSON: Thank you, Christi.

SANCHEZ: There are new details this morning about efforts by one of former President Trump's allies to overturn the November election. Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue both sitting down for interviews with the Senate Judiciary Committee, and we're learning they shed new light on one specific official, former DOJ lawyer Jeffrey Clark. And the lengths that Clark went to to subvert the election, including his efforts to get his bosses fired for refusing to back up Trump's lies about the 2020 election.

CNN has learned that Rosen and Donoghue both told investigators they didn't know whether Clark was acting on Trump's orders. They apparently also told investigators that Trump himself never instructed them, either of them, to do anything illegal.

PAUL: Coming up, hospitals are being pushed to the brink again as coronavirus cases are skyrocketing. We are talking to one woman whose husband is in the ICU right now. Her message to all of us.



SANCHEZ: New data shows a dramatic surge in the number of coronavirus cases across the country.

PAUL: The U.S. is now averaging more than 100,000 new daily COVID-19 cases every day. That's the highest rate in nearly six months. For instance, the last time the seven-day average was that high was back in February. And compare it the end of just June when the average was only over 11,000 cases.

And remember roughly half the U.S. population is still unvaccinated. So we have hospitalizations and deaths that are also climbing. As we think about the more than 63,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, on Friday it's just something to remember.

SANCHEZ: Yes, and it's important to remember that a lot of this could have been prevented simply if more people had been vaccinated. The alarming uptick in cases and hospitalizations come as millions of students are set to return to school in person.

Schools opening up this week across many counties in Florida, which is the epicenter of the current surge. Florida has fully vaccinated slightly less than half its total population, but the rate of virus transmission remains high.

PAUL: CNN's Natasha Chen is live there in Orlando. Natasha, good morning to you.

So we know Florida is leading the U.S. in these cases. The story of what's happening there is being repeated now across the country. What are you hearing?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning, Christi and Boris.

Some similar trends here in Florida throughout the country. Unfortunately, children are really being affected by this virus right now. There are children's hospitals here in Florida and throughout the south really overwhelmed right now. This as, as you said, students are preparing to go back in class and local and state officials in many places are butting heads over how to implement or not implement a mask policy.


This all happening as the death toll across the country continues to rise.


CHEN (voice-over): Hundreds of COVID-19 survivors held marches in 20 states Saturday to remember the more than 600,000 and counting Americans killed by the virus and to call on lawmakers to take action. As they marched, the highly contagious Delta variant continued to wreak its deadly havoc across the U.S.

DR. MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS, INFECTIOUS DISEASE PHYSICIAN, JOHN COCHRAN V.A. MEDICAL CENTER: People are sick. Deaths are up. And we are very discouraged. And we had started to have some hope at the beginning of the summer. So to be back in this space, especially with winter just around the corner, is something that has us all worried.

CHEN: While vaccination rates in the U.S. are picking up, some people remain unconvinced to protect themselves against the virus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you get the vaccine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hell no. I am not getting it until they start telling me it isn't going to make you sterile and kill your (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I don't trust it when it's not even approved yet.

COLLEEN BONDS, SURVIVED COVID-19: I had no idea I would be so sick from COVID. I'm 36. I'm healthy. I'm young.

CHEN: Hawaii resident Colleen Bonds said she had hesitated to get vaccinated while pregnant because she had lost a baby previously. But at 28 weeks, she became hospitalized with COVID-19. Doctors performed a C-section and her baby tested negative for the virus.

BONDS: She was born 10 days ago and I haven't met her. And I get to go and see her today.

CHEN: In Orlando, Florida, Ruth Flynn also knows two close friends who recently became hospitalized but they did not make it home. That's why she and her three children went to get a vaccine on Saturday.

RUTH FLYNN, ORLANDO, FLORIDA RESIDENT: It was scary, because one of them was the same age as me, has two children, healthy, no side effects to anything. And then when she passed she was like the last person you thought that would go. So that scared me, shook me. And I was like, no, we have to get vaccinated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is normal for you to have side effects, to have some flu like symptoms, OK?

CHEN: Orlando nurse Jennifer Stone says this mobile vaccination clinic saw triple and quadruple the numbers of people wanting to get a shot compared to earlier in the summer.

JENNIFER STONE: LEAD NURSE AND STRIKE TEAM COORDINATOR: People do follow the numbers. They do watch the news. And whenever there is a spike we see a spike in vaccinations.

CHEN: Orange County, Florida, has seen more 12 to 17-year-olds getting vaccinated recently as the school year is about to resume in person for many of them.

BRANDON SANTIZO, RISING SENIOR, COLONIAL HIGH SCHOOL: With me going back I'm going to be around the different kids and all new people. And I didn't even go last year so now it's like a new environment and new germs.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): In terms of the upcoming school year --

CHEN: Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Board of Education have ensured that parents can have a choice in whether their children go to school masked, even giving parents who feel harassed with the mask requirement the option to get a voucher for private school. And that has spurred tension and debate with authorities at both federal and local levels.

MAYOR DAN GELBER, MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: We know that the masks help not just the person wearing the mask but equally important all the other classmates. So it's not really fair to say I want to give a parent a choice to send his child to school to perhaps sicken some other child. That -- we're all in this together. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHEN: "We're all in this together," he says. But it certainly doesn't feel that way when parents, educators, officials are at odds over how to bring kids back to class safely. Right here in Florida, Orange County as well as Hillsborough County have now implemented mask mandates. But because of how the state policy is, parents are allowed to opt out of that. Christi and Boris.

SANCHEZ: Natasha Chen reporting from Orlando. Thank you so much.

Let's dig deeper with an expert and doctor, Chris Pernell. She's a public health physician and a fellow with the American College of Preventive Medicine. Dr. Pernell, always great to have you on. We appreciate you being up early for us.

The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases had been declining for five months before the emergence of the Delta variant. Now we are back, over 100,000 new cases a day. Vaccination rates at the highest levels they've been since early July, but half of the country remains unvaccinated. So what needs to be done to turn things around?

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: I would say that we need to continue to persist. Persist in our messaging. Messaging around how important it is for everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated because that's how we protect those who are not quite eligible. And I am speaking in particular about our youth. In order for our youth to be safe, we need our adults to be vaccinated and we need those 12 and older to be vaccinated.

I think people sorely underestimated the Delta variant. People sorely underestimate the pandemic. The pandemic will continue to flare as long as there are susceptible hosts and there will be susceptible hosts as long as we don't have the majority of the population vaccinated.


I do also want to be hopeful, and it is hopeful that in these past few weeks and even these past few days we have seen the rate of vaccinations increase, specifically in those states where we're seeing the worst surges. So we can overcome this, but we need politicians to be on the side of science and politicians to be lock step with public health.

SANCHEZ: Let's talk about schools. Classrooms across the country will soon be opening up for the start of a new school year. In some areas where they have already opened up, there have been issues.

In Georgia, last week more than 100 kids forced to quarantine. In Arkansas a few days ago, more than 900 having to quarantine. Would you feel comfortable sending your student to a school in an area with low vaccination rates where they are not enforcing strict rules about masks or contact tracing?

PERNELL: I think parents have every right to be concerned, as I would be concerned. You know, my nieces are the darlings of my life, and we talk about this in my family. We have one, Kaya (ph) in particular, who is not able to be vaccinated because she is 10. And parents should be concerned.

But the unfortunate part, Boris, is that public officials aren't doing their part. Mask mandates aren't political. Look, when you have baby, you have to put that baby in a car seat before you can bring the baby home. When a child goes to school, you have to offer childhood vaccinations.

The fact that we have politicized mask-wearing, the fact that we have politicized contact tracing, testing, things that are bedrock staples in public health really is unfortunate. And I am hopeful that there will be a safety rail finally that people will come to their good sense, their good human and humanity sense and do what's in the best interest of all of us.

SANCHEZ: That's a lot to hope for in this day and age, doctor. So vaccination rates have been ticking up in the last few weeks, at least 50 percent of the country now fully vaccinated. Still the number of hospitalizations is trending in the wrong direction and we have read that some hospital systems are being challenged. I am curious as to how concerned you are that some hospitals might once again be overwhelmed the way they were at the start of the pandemic.

PERNELL: That is a reality that we must contend with. With this virus we can never be caught asleep at the wheel. We can't afford to let our guard down, especially with the proliferation of mutants. And I will say this again, as long as we have significant portions of the American population and more broadly across the globe who are unvaccinated, the potential for variants to emerge that are more transmittable like the Delta and particularly maybe even more lethal will always present us with a challenge of our health systems being overwhelmed. That's why we have to work together in order to keep the most people safe and to keep our health system functioning at a level that is effective.

SANCHEZ: Yes, there are already other variants out there like the Lambda variant that the CDC is now studying to try to learn more about. And we can expect more mutations, as you noted, as long as people aren't getting the vaccine. Dr. Chris Pernell, thank you so much for the time and expertise. We appreciate it.

PERNELL: Thank you.

PAUL: And speaking of all of this, we are speaking to someone who very graciously agreed to talk to us, a woman whose husband is currently in an ICU battling COVID. Their story is next.



CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: So, listen to this. In Florida, COVID hospitalization records are being shattered among both adults and kids now. We know that the state right now is seeing the highest weekly number of new COVID cases ever. And to make it worse, Florida has the highest rate of hospital beds taken up by COVID-19 patients in the nation because, of course, the Delta variant that's spreading so rapidly.

Susan Walker is with me now. I want to introduce you to her because her husband is unvaccinated. He's currently in a medically induced coma in the ICU on a ventilator. He is fighting for his life this morning. Susan, I know I said it before. I'm so sorry that you're going through this. First of all, please tell us how your husband is doing. I mean, what do you know about his status?

SUSAN WALKER, UNVACCINATED HUSBAND IN THE ICU: He is, like you said, he's an ICU. He's been ventilated since the 25th of July. He is currently -- he's on a ventilator and he is in dire need of an ECMO treatment, which is not available at the hospital that he is in. And to transfer him to a hospital in Florida is next to impossible.

We have searched every hospital from the South Florida to the north part of Florida, and like you just said, all the beds are taken up by COVID victims also getting ECMO treatment. So, now, we're desperately searching outside of the state just for a hospital to take him.

PAUL: So, it's possible to say airlift him out of state to get this treatment?

WALKER: Yes. We've actually been in contact with a third-party medical air flight team that would send supporting staff to take him to a center, to a hospital that would offer ECMO on an ECMO machine.

PAUL: Susan, how are you through all of this?

WALKER: Devastated. We've lost a daughter two and a half years ago to a brain aneurysm and we just never thought we would see ourselves facing tragedy two times. We haven't even been able to get over the past -- the loss of our daughter, and now my husband is fighting for his life.


PAUL: I'm so sorry. I know that you, at one point, you know, before he was admitted would have been able to talk to him, obviously. At what point did you know he had to be admitted, and what was he saying at that point?

WALKER: Well, he tested positive on July 9, and the only sign that he had was a fever. And, you know, you're told, stay home and just let it run its course. He ran a fever for nine days, and we took him in for an X-ray on a on the 15th. A doctor listened to his lungs, didn't hear anything, and send him home without an X-ray. Two days later, we found ourselves in the emergency room on the 17th, which they did an X-ray and realized he had bilateral lung pneumonia from COVID.

He was immediately admitted into the hospital. And he hasn't been out since. And he was the morning of the 25th, before he was intubated, we would talk frequently on the phone because our visits were limited to 30 minutes, because he was in isolation. So, the morning of, he called me to let me know that he had signed the papers to be intubated. And he cried and just told me how regretful he was of not getting the shot. And he begged me to go get vaccinated.

PAUL: And you did so. I understand. Help us -- help us understand, if you would please, the reasoning that you all talked about to not get vaccinated. Because there are a lot of people -- you know, half the country is not and they're probably having the same conversations that you had.

WALKER: For sure. You know, I tested positive for COVID back in December. The vaccination wasn't available to our age range yet. Because I had antibodies, and we were still somewhat shut down in our state, we just took the precautions that we needed to. And we talked about getting the shot, but there was some conflicting feelings and fear over the long-term medical -- you know, what would happen to us -- if we took the shot, what would happen 10 years from now or five years from now. So, we were concerned about that.

And then our state started to open up. Restaurants are opening up, bars are reopening. We had more social gatherings. They started to get larger and larger and larger, less people wearing masks in grocery stores or just out and about and we let our guard down. And we still continue to talk about the shot but things seem to be getting to normal. And then we were blindsided.

PAUL: How long has it been since you've been able to actually talk to your husband?

WALKER: Since July 25.

PAUL: So, how are you holding up with the rest of your family? I know you said that it's so devastating, but you still have to get up every day. You still have to try to reconcile what's happening and then I know you must be frantically working. Your main mission right now is to get him to another state. How hopeful are you that that is going to be able to happen.

WALKER: We have God on our side and we have so much support staff too in our community and just all around, people trying to help us. I'm extremely hopeful. The fight is not over until the fight is over. And I'm just -- we're on the phone daily all my -- we have six kids. The one that passed was our middle child. And we are -- all of our children are calling hospitals day in and day out and we aren't stopping until we find someone that will take him and help us.

PAUL: There is no force like a family. And please know that we're -- you know, we're praying for you. And please keep us informed as to how this progresses. And we are holding out hope for you as well, Susan. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

WALKER: Thank you so much for having me.

PAUL: Of course. We'll be right back.



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Travelers returned to the skies in record numbers this summer, but for some, the friendly skies have been a nightmare. Unruly passengers, labor shortages, technical problems leading to all sorts of cancellations and delays and frustrations.

This week, Spirit Airlines canceling hundreds of flights promising that issues would be resolved. As of last check, many of them have not been. Let's discuss with Charlie Leocha. He's the founder and president of Travelers United, an advocacy group.

Charlie, good morning. Thank you so much for spending part of your weekend with us. Let's start with that news from Spirit Airlines. At one point, early last week, as much as 70 percent of spirits flight schedule was affected by cancelations and delays. How confident are you that they can fix these problems? And how can the airline regain some of their passengers trust?

CHARLIE LEOCHA, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, TRAVELERS UNITED: Well, I think that when we speak about the whole Spirit Airlines and cancelations of flights and so on, we really have to talk about the entire airline industry. Yes, Spirit did have the largest percentage of their flight of their total flight flights canceled. However, we have also Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines. they've all had problems with their -- with their -- maintaining their schedules.


Spirit was the very worst. That went way over half. And the other ones were down around 12, and 13, 15 percent of their flights being canceled. Any canceled flight really throws a passenger for a loop, because they don't have anywhere else to go. Right now, we do have a group of other advocacy, consumer organizations, which are now getting ready to meet with the Secretary of Transportation, or with representatives next Tuesday, and we're going to be discussing this.

And what we can do to change the system -- there seems to be a law right now which says that you can't do this. However, you just can't do this if you let everyone know that it's going to happen. So, it doesn't really help you when something happens because they put something on the Web site that says sorry, we can't do anything for you, and you just are stuck.

So, somewhere in here, we've got to reach a middle path. And it's too late for the poor people that got stuck in the -- in this current Spirit problem. But hopefully, in the future, it will work out well for other people.

SANCHEZ: And Charlie, when you say that there's a law that says you can't do this, what exactly do you mean?

LEOCHA: Well, there's a law that was passed back in 2018. And in the law, it says that, they have to tell you what they will do if they have a widespread disruption. And the law was written very, very carefully. Naturally, the airlines have a lot of control over what goes into the laws. And I thought that the airlines would allow some of the portions of -- some of the portions of the law to actually come through OK.

But what happened is, it says, you have to let people know if you're going to put them up, if you're going to put them on another airline, if you're going to give them overnight accommodations, and so on. However, it only says you have to let them know that if you're going to do it, but if you're not going to do it, you can just say I'm not going to do anything. As long as they post something on their Web site, that's all they have to do. And so, the law is a little bit fudgy right now.

SANCHEZ: Yes. So, what's your message to lawmakers to have some accountability in the airline industry? I read multiple accounts of people essentially getting stranded by Spirit and getting a $20 food voucher and not having a place to go.

LEOCHA: You're right. And my whole push right now with the Department of Transportation, and I've already written them several e-mails, and I've done a several posts and so on, is that there should be consequences, and that the airline should be fined dramatically by the DOT. And the DOT should not keep the money. They should send that money to the affected passengers. And we'll see what ends up happening. I don't know if they'll do that, but that's what we're asking them to do right now.

SANCHEZ: It seems like it would make sense that if you pay for a service, you either get the service or you get reimbursed somehow. Basic common sense.

LEOCHA: It does -- it does make sense.


LEOCHA: But it's not happening right now.

SANCHEZ: Charlie, we have to leave the conversation there. Charlie Leocha, thank you so much for the time. Stay with CNN. We'll be right back.



SANCHEZ: The Dixie fire is burning through parts of California where it's been devastating, small mountain towns for almost a month. People are losing their homes and businesses. And right now, eight people are still unaccounted for.

PAUL: CNN's Camila Bernal is in California. And she spoke with someone who understand what it's like to lose everything.


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's dry and it's hot and the fire is spreading so quickly that in many cases it's impossible to stop. Firefighters with 20, 30 years of experience say that they've never seen a fire like this one. They describe the Dixie fire as having frightening behavior. Over the weekend though, the focus is to find people who are still unaccounted for. Law enforcement is saying that they have already found some but that they will continue to search over the next couple of days.

Firefighters are working around the clock to contain the Dixie Fire which has already destroyed about 200 structures. They say that about 14,000 others are still at risk. The River Fire which is about 100 miles from where I am at the moment, also destroying about 100 structures, so a lot of work still to be done in this area.

These two fires are essentially surrounding the town of Paradise which was destroyed in 2018 by the Camp Fire. We spoke to Franci Lamb who owned a home in Paradise and lost everything she had. She says she understands what people are going through right now who have lost everything.

FRANCI LAMB, LOST HOME IN CAMP FIRE: I would take them in in a heartbeat. You know, they need a place to shower. They need a place to get some food. They need a place to sleep. And they need to be hugged. They need to be held and told them that it will get better. It will get better. It did get better for us but it took a long time, a long time.


BERNAL: And after the Camp Fire, Franci Lamb bought an RV. It is full of food and supplies. She's ready to go in case she has to evacuate one more time. In the meantime though, she is dealing with the smoke, as are many other people in this area. Some of the counties here even telling people not to go outside because the air quality is unhealthy.

That smoke is affecting not just people in this state, but in other states that are nowhere near this fire. Camila Bernal, CNN Chico, California.


SANCHEZ: Camila, thank you so much for that. We have a quick programming note to share with you. Tonight, be sure to watch an all- new episode of the CNN Original Series History of the Sitcom. It airs at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.