Pilots for Spirit Airlines go on strike

June 12, 2010 9:00:17 PM PDT
Flights out of Chicago were canceled Saturday, and that meant a wrench was thrown into the travel plans of hundreds of passengers from the Chicago area.Spirit Airlines announced Saturday that all of its flights for Sunday are cancelled. Airline officials say that in addition to refunding the cost of the tickets to passengers, they are helping them get on other carriers.

However, at O'Hare Saturday, that was not what was happening. Instead, what ABC7 Chicago found was a lot of angry, dissatisfied customers trying to figure out their travel plans on their own.

"They're saying there's nothing they can do, and I say that's hogwash," passenger July Dotson said.

Dotson and her family were just a few of the many frustrated passengers at O'Hare Saturday morning, where four Spirit Airlines flights were schedule to depart Saturday. They arrived ready to check-in for their flight to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina only to find out that their carrier, Spirit Airlines, had cancelled all of its Saturday flights, as a result of its pilots going on strike.

"I mean, we're stranded, and the options they're offering us are absolutely ridiculous," said Dotson. "It's already going to cost us two days travel, if not three."

Spirit's pilots walked away from the bargaining table after failing to reach an agreement with the airline at 5 a.m. Saturday. The airline operates only four flights out of O'Hare on Saturdays. But nationally, 18,000 passengers were stranded Saturday.

The airline says it will refund the full cost of the tickets, but for many who must get out Saturday, that's not enough. Passenger Jason Valerio is trying to get to his son's high school graduation Sunday morning.

"Tickets were $500 to $800 a piece, and we just haven't budgeted for that extra payment. I can't afford it now," he said.

Spirit Airlines released a statement Saturday regarding the strike. It reads in part:

"We are frustrated and disappointed that our pilots have turned down [the offer] while disrupting thousands of our customers and jeopardizing the livelihoods of our over 2,000 employees," according to Ben Baldanza, chief executive, Spirit Air.

Passengers speaking with ABC7 say they don't blame the airline for the strike, but they say the response to it could be much better.

"It would have gone a long way to say, 'Ok, let's see what we can do to help you find a place to fly so we can get you out of here today,'" stranded assenger Don Whipple said.

"The thing that aggravates me the most is that they didn't send an email. We could have saved a trip to the airport," said Jonathan Tsarong-Blonver, also stranded.

Originally, Spirit had said they would continue flying in case of a strike, but in the end, the charter carriers they were in talks with backed out under pressure from the Airline Pilots Association.

As of right now, it's not clear when contract negotiations with pilots will resume.


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