Spirit Strike Could Delay Thousands
Copyright By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: June 12, 2010
A strike by Spirit Airlines pilots Saturday threatened to disrupt thousands of vacationers headed to the Caribbean and Latin America from the eastern U.S.
The Florida-based carrier canceled all its flights for the day after its pilots walked out in a dispute over pay. Spirit is the largest single carrier at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., airport, and its tickets aren't good on other carriers.
Spirit runs roughly 150 flights a day from several airports in the eastern U.S. through Fort Lauderdale. More than 5,000 passengers arrive and depart on Spirit at the airport each day, an airport spokesman said.
The airline said it was refunding fares for Saturday flights plus a $100 credit toward future flights. As recently as Tuesday it had said it was ''partnering with other air carrier providers to continue to serve our customers.'' It didn't immediately announce plans for its Sunday flights.
''As you can imagine, it's probably going to be a very busy day,'' said Greg Meyer, a spokesman for Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Spirit pilots have said their pay lags competitors such as AirTran Airways and JetBlue. The two sides have been in negotiations for more than three years.
Pilots could have walked out as early as midnight Friday, but kept talking under the guidance of the National Mediation Board in Washington until about 5 a.m. EDT.
''In the end, both sides could not reach an agreement,'' said Sean Creed, a Spirit captain and the head of the airline's branch of the Air Line Pilots Association, in a statement on the union's website.
He said pilots ''will not return to the cockpit until a fair and equitable contract is negotiated.''
The company said it offered to raise pilot pay by 30 percent over five years. It would have included work rule changes but would have retained a four-day break between every pilot trip, something the company said no other ALPA contract has. The offer also included a $3,000 signing bonus and a larger retirement plan match.
''We are frustrated and disappointed that our pilots have turned down an over 30 percent increase at a cost of over $70 million over five years while disrupting thousands of our customers and jeopardizing the livelihoods of our over 2,000 employees,'' Spirit President and CEO Ben Baldanza said in a written statement.
Privately held Spirit is much smaller than major carriers like Delta Air Lines Inc. But from Fort Lauderdale it's the only airline to 14 international cities and five U.S. destinations, Meyer said. That means travelers trying to reach those cities could be stuck.
The Miramar, Fla.-based airline has about 440 active pilots. It dubs itself an ultra low-cost carrier, and says some of its tickets go for $9. It attracted notice recently when it announced that beginning Aug. 1 it would charge passengers up to $45 for carry-on bags.
Air carrier strikes are rare. The last one at a major carrier was in 2005, when Northwest Airlines mechanics walked off the job rather than accept deep pay cuts. The strike failed after Northwest replaced them.