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Spirit Airlines, striking pilots to resume talks Tuesday

The carrier cancels its Wednesday flights, including those at Los Angeles International Airport. The labor dispute centers on pilots' pay.

June 15, 2010|By Julie Patel and Mike Clary

The head of the Air Line Pilots Assn. at Spirit Airlines said Monday that new negotiations had been scheduled in a bid to settle a strike that began Saturday.

Talks will resume Tuesday, said Capt. Sean Creed, who represents about 500 pilots at the discount airline.

Pilots struck at 5 a.m. Saturday after three years of negotiations and help from federal mediators failed to narrow differences over how much pilots should be paid to reach parity with pilots at competing airlines. It was the first significant strike in the airline industry in five years.

Spirit Airlines Inc. said it would cancel its flights scheduled for Wednesday, the fifth consecutive day in which the carrier will not fly.

Spirit's 150 daily flights include two departing and two arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, the only California airport it serves.

Some customers' anger toward the Miramar, Fla.-based airline and its pilots intensified as they received sky-high quotes for booking last-minute flights on other airlines. Others complained that they could not reach Spirit by phone to cash in on a refund.

Even if they do get refunds, some travelers said new tickets would cost them four times as much.

A Spirit spokeswoman declined to comment about customers' complaints, but the airline apologized Sunday in an announcement on its website about the canceled flights.

"Spirit Airlines is continuing to work with our pilot union to reach a fair and equitable agreement that ensures the long-term stability of the company, and allows us to continue offering you the ultra low fares you have come to know," the statement said.

Union organizers said they were hoping for a quick resolution.

"None of the pilots have crossed the picket line," said Paul Hopkins, strike committee chairman.

Spirit's flight attendants, who are unionized, back the pilot strike. But other employees, including mechanics and counter staff, are not organized and could be hit the hardest if the strike drags out.

The pilots can draw on a national strike fund if the walkout lasts more than 35 days.

Spirit, which is privately held, earned $108 million in 2009 — reflecting the highest profit margin of any U.S. airline, according to reports from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Jeff Sanford, a Spirit pilot, said that he sympathizes with the other employees but that if the pilots improve their salaries, benefits and working conditions, everyone at the airline will benefit.

"We are trying to create a culture of equity," he said. "We want to be out there flying as much as they do."

Patel and Clary write for the South Florida Sun Sentinel/McClatchy.

Times staff writer Nathan Olivarez-Giles contributed to this report.

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