It’s been a whack month for the airline industry, and now Spirit Airlines is joining the muck. The we’re-proud-to-give-you-a-base-fare-that-gets-you-a-seat-and-only-a-seat airliner has had quite a jacked up week, beginning with a brawl in Florida that erupted over some flight cancellations. So what’s been going on?
First, the fight. As NPR recaps, a reported total of nine canceled flights led to some disputes between local police in Florida and customers. You can see below, it wasn’t a typical night at the airport. Police arrested three individuals for disorderly conduct, the Washington Post reports.
NPR says the genesis of the outrage can be traced to a dispute between Spirit pilots and the airliner. A spokesman told NPR:
This is a result of unlawful labor activity by some Spirit pilots designed to disrupt Spirit operations for our customers, by canceling multiple flights across our network. These pilots have put their quest for a new contract ahead of getting customers to their destinations and the safety of their fellow Spirit Team Members. It is for this reason, Spirit has filed suit in Federal Court to protect our customers’ future travel.
The lawsuit, according to NPR, was filed against the Air Line Pilots Association, International, alleging the pilot’s union had “engaged in a pervasive illegal work slowdown.” As many as 300 flight cancellations followed, with more than 20,000 customers dealing with disrupted travel plans. (It’s unclear how far the cancellations spread across the U.S.—the airliner said it impacted about 15 percent of flights across its network, according to the Washington Post—but Spirit, for instance, has been cancelling flights in NYC over the past couple of days, as well.)
The union says it’s a bunch of hooey to blame the pilots, though. In a statement to NPR it said:
Rather, ALPA and the Spirit pilots are continuing to do everything possible to help restore the company’s operations, which have experienced significant problems over the past several days. While we will continue these efforts, we will actively defend the association, its officers and its member pilots against the unwarranted and counterproductive legal action brought by Spirit Airlines.
The core of the issue stems from a pay dispute that began two years ago with Spirit, according to CBS News. Spirit pilots generally make less then those working for competitors, and the union told the news outlet that Spirit has decent profits, but pays pilots at a bottom-tier rate. According to CNN Money, Spirit pays about $39,000 annually to new co-pilots, about half compared to competitors, and $11,000 less than the minimum someone would earn at the union shop known as Jalopnik; experienced pilots also make 50 percent more at a larger carrier.
Negotiations for a new contract began more than two years ago, CBS News reports. In 2010, pilots for the airliner went on strike for several days over low wages, according to the New York Times.
For now, there’s a bit of a reprieve.
On Tuesday, after a judge issued a temporary order for pilots to return to work, the union followed up and said pilots will “fully comply with the order handed down, which is completely in line with our overriding goal: the resumption of normal operations.”
In recent weeks, Spirit’s competition has faced PR nightmares over everything from the bloodied beating of a passenger dragged off a United plane that was overbooked to the death of a giant rabbit. So it’s been anything but normal.