Spirit Airlines will remain closed through 16 June after pilots rejected an offer that would have yielded a compounded average 29% pay increase over the next five years at cost to the company of $70 million.

Spirit cancelled flights beginning on 12 June when pilots, who are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), walked out on strike stranding thousands of passengers.

The job action follows four years of unsuccessful contract negotiations. The deadline had been extended twice during negotiations to review final proposals put forth by both sides, but in the end, it was not acceptable, according to the pilots.

"It is surprising to me that ALPA would turn down this generous offer that would have paid senior captains over $200,000 a year," says Spirit President and CEO Ben Baldanza, adding that he fears that the pilots are being used in a "broader political game" that may not be in their best interest. "This deal should be about Spirit and Spirit only, not about the pilots whose contracts are under negotiation at other ALPA carriers, but it would appear other forces have intervened."

"This 29% pay increase when combined with annual step increases totals a 47% increase in annual compenation over the five years, prior to any overtime pay, signing bonus and 401K matching contribution increases," says Spirit. Additionally, pilots would have retained a four day break between each and every trip - a feature not afforded in comparable pilot contracts, according to the airline.

Spirit pilots contend they are among the lowest paid in the US. They claim they have been working at "below market rates" and under substandard work rules.

"No one wanted this strike - certainly not the pilots group," says Sean Creed, head of Spirit's ALPA unit. "This contract is not just for the pilots who currently fly for Spirit right now. We have a responsibility to maintain our profession and pass down a legacy of a job worth having."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news