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TravelHaven News Brief – Spirit Airlines pilot strike could delay thousands

Associated Press reports that a strike by Spirit Airlines pilots Saturday may disrupt thousands of vacationers headed to the Caribbean and Latin America from the eastern U.S. The Florida-based carrier canceled all flights for the day after its pilots walked out in a dispute over pay. Spirit is the largest single carrier at the Fort Lauderdale airport and runs about 150 flights a day from airports in the eastern U.S. Spirit tickets aren’t good on other carriers.

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 would partner with other providers to serve its customers. More than 5,000 passengers arrive and depart on Spirit at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport each day. It didn’t immediately announce plans for its Sunday flights.

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. Although pilots could have walked out as early as midnight Friday, they continued negotiations kept until about 5 a.m. EDT under the guidance of the National Mediation Board in Washington.

“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 and offered to include work rule changes. It would have retained the 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. Spirit has about 440 active pilots.

“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 other 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 it’s the only airline from Fort Lauderdale that flies to fourteen international cities and five U.S. destinations. Travelers trying to reach those cities could be stuck.

Spirit considers 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.