Spirit Airlines Cancels Flights Through Tuesday - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Spirit Airlines Cancels Flights Through Tuesday

Pilots angry over proposed wages and pension changes.



    Spirit Airlines Cancels Flights Through Tuesday
    Getty Images
    FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JUNE 12: Spirit Airlines Inc. pilots hold signs as they picket in front of the terminal at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport after the pilots went on strike in a dispute over pay and benefits on June 12, 2010 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Miramar, Florida discount airline is seeing the first strike at a U.S. passenger carrier in nearly five years. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

    Spirit Airlines is canceling all of its flights through Tuesday, stranding thousands more passengers after the airline's pilots went on strike.

    The discount carrier said on its website Sunday that all Spirit Airlines flights have been cancelled through June 15. Spirit pilots walked off the job Saturday amid an ongoing contract dispute with the airline that has lasted for more than three years. Spirit pilots have said their pay lags behind competitors such as AirTran Airways and JetBlue.

    “None of the planes are moving and none of our pilots have crossed the picket line,” Paul Hopkins, strike committee chairman of Spirit's unit of The Air Line Pilots Association, said Sunday.

    The privately held airline, based in Miramar, Fla., carries 16,680 passengers per day -- about 1 percent of the U.S. total -- mostly between the eastern U.S. and the Caribbean and Latin America. Spirit's CEO said this weekend that no talks were scheduled with picketing pilots.

    The shutdown continues to cause major problems for Spirit's flyers. The airline said it is refunding fares for flights Saturday through Tuesday plus offering a $100 credit toward future flights as it tries to get its passengers booked onto other airlines.

    Spirit said Sunday it offered to raise pilot pay by about 29 percent over five years -- a move that would have cost the company an additional $70 million. Work rule changes would mean pilots would have to fly more to earn that money, however. Spirit's offer also kept 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.

    “It is surprising to me that ALPA would turn down this generous offer that would have paid senior captains over $200,000 per year,” said Spirit Airlines President and CEO Ben Baldanza in a statement. “I am concerned that our employees are being used in a broader political game that may not be in the interest of their careers or their families. This deal should be about Spirit and Spirit only, not about the pilots whose contracts are under negotiation at other ALPA carriers.”

    But Capt. Sean Creed, chairman of the Air Lines Pilot Association group at Spirit, said Sunday that the company's offer only matches inflation. He said that he's looking to have wages for Spirit pilots competitive with those at rivals like JetBlue Airways Corp.

    Creed noted that a captain with 10 years' experience at JetBlue earns about $158 an hour; that compares with $138 an hour for a Spirit captain with 15 years' experience.

    “We are looking for parity,” he said. He noted the proposed increase is good but “it's spread out too far.”

    Baldanza said in an interview Saturday that Spirit has made money over the past year and a half and he knew its pilots would need raises. He had added that he hoped to get some of Spirit's 31 aircraft flying soon with management pilots or others who cross the picket line. No such flights have yet taken place.

    The carrier has about 440 active pilots.

    The strike is being closely watched in the industry because pilots at much larger carriers, including AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, are also locked in tough negotiations.

    The last strike 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.