Spirit pilot strike cancels flights through Tuesday

Carrier could influence labor negotiations at other U.S. airlines

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Spirit Airlines canceled all of its flights through Tuesday, stranding thousands of passengers or forcing them to pay out-of-pocket for new flights.

"None of the planes are moving and none of our pilots have crossed the picket line," said Paul Hopkins, who serves as strike committee chairman of Spirit's unit of the Air Line Pilots Association.

The Miramar, Fla.-based airline carries 16,680 passengers per day, about 1 percent of the nation's total. The privately held airline is the largest at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the airport's passengers.

Aviation consultants are divided over how long the pilots' strike - the nation's first in five years - will take to resolve. Union leaders say after more than three years of failed talks they're prepared to hold out for a new contract, though they hope it won't come to that.

Spirit is offering full refunds or credits for the cost of flights plus $100 future flight credit. Refunds and credits are being processed through the company's reservation line at 800-772-7117.

For a second day, the airport's terminal 4 on Sunday morning was the scene of anger and frustration as travelers returning from Caribbean cruises and struggled to find another way home. Most had heard of the strike and knew their flights were canceled, but had no place to go but the airport.

Plenty of Spirit gate agents and counter clerks were on hand to help, but few passengers seemed pleased with the help Spirit employees offered: a refund that would show up later on a credit card. There was no help to try to find flights on other carriers.

"To leave us here stranded like this is ridiculous," said Kivi Larson, 44, with a family group of 15 trying to get home to Chicago after a week-long celebration of her parents' 50th anniversary aboard the Princess Emerald.

Larson's sister Gita Gidwani, 48, was irate. "We have seven children here under 7 and our elderly parents," she said. "We can't get back home, and they don't seem to care."

"I'm just going to send Spirit a bill for what it costs us to get home."

In the terminal not far away Sylvia Wattley, 61, said she had no idea how to get back to Torola in the British Virgin Islands after her flight to St. Thomas was canceled. She and relatives were returning from a cruise to Grand Cayman and Honduras. "I'm going to get a refund of about $200," she said after talking to the Sprit agent at the counter. "But it will cost me at least $900 for a one-way ticket to St. Thomas today."

Most Spirit passengers said they heard about the strike Saturday when still aboard ship. "I have high blood pressure, and this is just making it worse," said Wattley, a retired financial adviser. "I couldn't sleep last night worrying about this."

On Saturday the story was much the same.

"I just want to go home," Christine Kemp, 55, of Nassau shouted at Spirit's ticket counter of Fort Lauderdale airport Saturday morning. After a sheriff's deputy calmed her down, she told reporters she was upset Spirit did nothing more to help her than reimburse her the return portion of her ticket back home.

"They said 'We are going to give you a voucher.' I'm not going to fly with them again, so what good is the voucher?"

Rubi Davidson, 31, of Ontario, Canada, was trying to fly back to Detroit. The cost of the flight from Fort Lauderdale to Detroit on Spirit was $100. One-way flights she was looking at Saturday were at least $900. She said she was frantically calling family members to get funds to return to Detroit, and then drive back to Canada.

Spirit does not have agreements with other carriers that let those airlines easily accept Spirit tickets, according to the company's contract of carriage agreement and pilots' union officials.

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