- Associated Press - Sunday, June 13, 2010

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. | Spirit Airlines is canceling all of its flights through Tuesday, stranding thousands more passengers as a pilot’s strike continues into its second day.

The discount carrier said on its website Sunday that all Spirit Airlines flights have been canceled 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.

“None of the planes are moving and none of our pilots have crossed the picket line,” Paul Hopkins, strike committee chairman of Spirit’s unit of the Air Line Pilots Association, said Sunday.

The privately held airline, based in Miramar, Fla., carries 16,680 passengers per day — about 1 percent of the U.S. total — mostly between the eastern U.S. and the Caribbean and Latin America. Spirit’s CEO said this weekend that no talks were scheduled with picketing pilots.

The shutdown continues to cause major problems for Spirit’s fliers. The airline said it is refunding fares for flights Saturday through Tuesday plus offering a $100 credit toward future flights as it tries to get its passengers booked onto other airlines.

But people who needed to replace their Spirit tickets found the cost of same-day fares on other airlines was two- to three times more than their tickets. Tim and Dana Wells spent the past week on a cruise ship and didn’t hear about the strike until a taxi dropped them off at Fort Lauderdale airport Sunday morning.

Mr. Wells, 40, frantically searched his laptop for a flight home to St. Joseph, Mich. His wife’s pink sun hat rested on the seat next to him as a distant reminder of the peaceful vacation that’s turned into a nightmare.

“I think Spirit should be put out of business if they are going to do that to their customers,” he said.

The couple eventually found flights home for nearly $1,300 — almost $1,000 more than their original tickets. The new flight didn’t leave until 6 p.m., leaving them stranded all day at the airport.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is Spirit’s main hub, where it is the only airline to 14 international cities and five U.S. destinations, airport spokesman Greg Meyer said. Around the country Spirit runs roughly 150 flights per day.

Outside nearly a dozen uniformed pilots held signs, a few marched peacefully in a circle.

“We do sympathize with [the passengers],” said Spirit pilot Travis Wheat. He said they tried to warn passengers of a pending strike weeks earlier with billboards and press releases.

The company has offered to raise pilot pay by 30 percent over five years, although work rule changes mean pilots would have to fly more to earn that money. Spirit’s offer also kept a 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.

But Capt. Sean Creed, chairman of the Air Lines Pilot Association group at Spirit, said Sunday that the company’s offer only matches inflation. He said that he’s looking to have wages for Spirit pilots competitive with those at rivals like JetBlue Airways Corp.