Spirit Airline Pilots on Strike Through Tuesday

Walk out marks first strike at a U.S. passenger carrier in nearly five years

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCNewYork
    Spirit Airlines pilots went on strike for the first time.

    Spirit Airlines is canceling all of its flights through Tuesday, stranding thousands more passengers as a pilot's strike continues into its third day.

    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.

    The airline flies out of LaGuardia and Atlantic City airports. This is the first U.S. passenger airline strike  in nearly five years. Pilots picketed outside the airline late Saturday morning in demonstration of their frustration.

    Both sides continued talking through the night past their 12:01 a.m. strike deadline. The pilots' union wants Spirits pilots to be paid as much as their counterparts at JetBlue and Airtran.  

    Pilots rejected a 30 percent pay increase over five years and a $3,000 signing bonus per pilot for a total cost of $70 million to the airline. The package offered by Spirit would have also allowed them to retain a four-day off break between each trip. The 53,000 member union -- Air Line Pilots Association -- is entirely behind the roughly 500 Spirit pilots on strike.

    For passengers, anger erupted in front of the Spirit Airlines desk.

    "I feel like picketing this place," said Cathy Crowell of Stratford, Conn.

    Another passenger, Matthew Kearns Sr., of Port Jefferson, called the cancelled flights inexcusable. 

    His plans to spend the week at a rented condo down in Myrtle Beach with his son are up in the air.

    "I thought I was going to have some fun but now I can’t," he said.

    While everyone scrambled to figure out if it was possible to fly with another airline, the Spirit pilots picketed silently outside.

    "Pilots said they are in it for the long haul," said one pilot, Bill Coogan. "We don't know how long it's going to be."

    At least one pilot claims that's still not what other airlines are paying.

    Spirit executives were disheartened by pilots' decision to reject the pay package.

    "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 Airlines President and CEO Ben Baldanza said in a statement.

    It wasn't immediately clear if Spirit had a contingency plan. A pilot who wished to remain anonymous told NBCNewYork that no one wanted to strike because of the financial implications, but felt there was no other way.

    In the meantime, a substantial strike fund exists to help the pilots out during the strike.

    The discount airline carries about 1 percent of U.S. passenger air traffic, according to The Wall Street Journal. A Spirit employee told NBCNewYork the airline tried to reach all of the passengers with scheduled flights today, but some didn't get the word in time, which sent people scrambling. Spirit flies about 12 flights a day from LaGuardia.

    For customers with cancelled flights, Spirit is processing a credit for the full amount of the flight as well as providing a $100 future flight credit. Anyone who made their reservation prior to May 11 directly with Spirit and purchased travel insurance should call Travel Guard at 866-877-3191 if their flight has been cancelled.

    While Spirit assures passengers it will reimburse them, that doesn't help them right now. Marlene McGill, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, can't go to a wedding because her flight got cancelled.

    "What am I going to do? I can’t get upset," she said. "They gave me a credit for $100 I don’t think I’m ever going to fly spirit again."