Spirit Airlines pilots go on strike; discount carrier cancels Saturday flights

By Joshua Freed, AP
Saturday, June 12, 2010

Spirit Airlines cancels flights as pilots strike

Spirit Airlines pilots went on strike Saturday in a dispute over pay, and the discount carrier immediately canceled all of its flights for the day.

The walkout and cancellations were expected to affect thousands of travelers. Spirit flies from several airports in the eastern U.S., through Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to points in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Talks were extended past a midnight deadline, but pilots walked out after the last extension expired at 5 a.m. EDT.

The extensions were “in order to review final proposals put forth by both parties to keep the airline running. 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.

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.

Spirit 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.”

Privately-held Spirit runs roughly 150 flights a day, making it much smaller than major carriers like Delta Air Lines Inc., with 6,200.

The airline has about 440 active pilots and is based in Miramar, Fla. 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.

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