Spirit Airlines has canceled all of its flights through June 16 as a result of a pilot strike that began Saturday.

The Florida-based airline, which provides travel to the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean, runs roughly 150 flights carrying about 16,680 passengers a day, according to The Associated Press.  This accounts for less than 1% of U.S. air passenger traffic, but so far thousands of travelers have found themselves stranded at the airport, unable to book a flight due to an overall decrease in availability due to the economic downturn.

"We are accommodating Spirit passengers as best we can," Christopher White, a spokesperson for AirTran, told The Wall Street Journal. "But we have very high load factors over the next few weeks."

Those who are able to get a seat have to pay two to three times more the cost of the original flight due to same-day airfare prices. Spirit is currently offering future flight credits at the cost of the original purchase plus an additional $100 flight voucher to passengers who have had their flights canceled. Passengers who are interested in a cash refund can call (800) 772-7117 for assistance.
The strike started early Saturday morning when approximately 450 pilots walked off of the job early after four years of contract negotiations failed to address wage concerns.

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“Spirit pilots are willing to withdraw their services to get the contract they deserve,” Captain John Prater, president of ALPA, said in a press release. “Every one of the 53,000 pilots of ALPA stands with them as they go on strike. As pilots, our livelihood is in the air, not on the picket line, but the inability of Spirit management to negotiate a contract that adequately compensates our professional members has created this dispute.”

ALPA claims that Spirit pilots, especially first officers, have been working at below-market rates for years “under substandard work rules.”
Spirit had offered the pilots a compounded average 29% pay increase, which would have cost the Florida-based airline an additional $70 million a year. They also agreed to offer pilots a $3,000 signing bonus and an increased 401(k) match by the company. (Employees would receive an 8% match in their first three years of employment and a 9% match thereafter. All other Spirit employees receive a 3% match regardless of time with the company.)

The ALPA, which rejected this offer prior to the strike, is declining to comment on the negotiations beyond the original press release.
“It is surprising to me that ALPA would turn down this generous offer that would have paid senior captains over $200,000 per year,” Ben Baldansa, Spirit Airlines President and CEO, said in a press release.  “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 it would appear other forces have intervened.”

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