Pilot Strike Could Be the End of Spirit As We Know Them

I hope everyone had a good weekend. Of course, if you had plane tickets on Spirit, it was far from it. The pilots went on strike in the wee hours on Saturday morning and flights were canceled from that point on. As this now stretches into day 3, it is becoming more clear that the next time Spirit flies an airplane, it may Spirit Strike - Leverage Mattersnot be quite the same.

The fight is your standard labor brawl. The pilots want more, management doesn’t want to give it to them, and now everybody is pissed. So far, management seems to be doing a better job of stating its case to the public. The PR team has been issuing relatively frequent updates with specific details of contract proposals, a far cry from the lack of even a mention on the website before it started (which is just so wrong). So where are we now?

Well, flights are canceled through Tuesday at the very least and people are stranded. If you’re flying Spirit this week, give us a shout at Cranky Concierge via phone at (707) 797-7474 or via email at info@crankyconcierge.com and we will do our best to help.

But what exactly has been offered? Spirit says that it will give a substantial pay increase, increase the amount of money matched in the 401k, offer a signing bonus, and more. But what’s an increase without knowing the base value, right?

Right now, an 8 year captain on the A319 makes $122 an hour. A 15 year captain on the A319 makes $138 an hour. After signing, this would instantly jump to $134 and $152 respectively. By the end of five years, those would rise to $170 and $186.

The pilots are speaking more generically and less frequently about what they want – a “fair and equitable” contract – which effectively means they want something that’s comparable to others in the industry. Of course, we have to figure out which airlines are the right ones for comparison purposes. How about JetBlue and AirTran, since they have the most similar networks and models?

JetBlue eight year A320 captains pull down $151 an hour with 15 year captains making $159. AirTran 737 pilots make $132 an hour at eight years and $153 at fifteen.

So this contract is quite comparable with AirTran from a pay perspective, but that doesn’t mean it is from a benefits and work rules perspective. Clearly, there’s something here the pilots don’t like, but my requests for more information on that have gone unanswered so far.

Regardless of what they want, they might be underestimating the fact that they could end up getting nothing but a pink slip. The airline has been around for a lot longer than you might think – 30 years in some form or another, in fact. So there are some senior pilots flying around making a decent living at the airline.

Meanwhile, Spirit has made it clear to the world that the airline lives solely to offer insanely low fares (plus a ton of fees and ancillary products). The combination has turned a money loser into a profitable airline. So they’re riding high, but now what?

One way to be able to reduce fares is to lower your costs. Hmm, replacing striking pilots with cheaper, greener pilots seems right up their alley, doesn’t it? Sure, it hurts to go through a strike, so they have clearly made an effort to settle this in some way. Some would argue that they haven’t made enough of an effort, but there obviously has been an effort. Offering more pay for pilots is worth avoiding the pain, and it’s the right thing to do.

But guess what? The airline is now already feeling the pain. The strike has happened, they’ve made a strong offer, so what’s their incentive to cave? Not much. They’re already taking the revenue and PR hit, so now it becomes a different calculation for them.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this end badly for the pilots. Oh, Spirit won’t come out smelling like roses at all, but they can still survive. As for those pilots, well, that may end up being a much harder landing. That’s why I say that the next time we see Spirit flying, it could be a somewhat different airline.

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67 Comments on "Pilot Strike Could Be the End of Spirit As We Know Them"

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Don Nadeau
Guest

How do you know that “they can still survive,” when as a private company, Spirit to the best of my knowledge gives us no audited access to its finances?

sam powers
Guest

What no one realized was how successful the strike would be…this is the first big strike since the internet has become mass. It has made scabbing almost impossible, within minutes of a scab moving an airplane, not only is his picture and name on all the websites, but the picketers can find his/her address on property appraisers websites and picket in front of their home. This is why Baldanza will not find any pilot willing to cross the picket line, or any charter airline willing to fly spirit passengers.

Craig Cooper
Guest

I disagree with strikes completely, if you are not happy with your job and you can’t resolve it, find another.

sam powers
Guest

they were happy…but baldanza without notice gave them a ¨temporary¨ pay cut after 9-11 …that was almost 10 yrs ago….if an employer does not keep his promise you should be allowed to strike…

okok
Guest

Maybe you should learn some history before you make generalized comments like this.

Dan
Guest

Craig,

It’s not so simple. Pilots are paid based on years of service with the company and equipment flown. If a 10-year captain at Spirit is not happy, and he goes to Jet Blue, he goes as a first-year first-officer at first-year first-officer pay. So if that’s the arena they work in, “if you don’t like it quit” isn’t a viable option.

The issues involved with airline pilot pay and the environment are quite complex, and aren’t something that can really be explored and resolved on a message board.

charlie
Guest

“and he goes to Jet Blue, he goes as a first-year first-officer at first-year first-officer pay”

But that’s only because the unions want it that way. They demand to pay based on years of service with a particular airline rather than pay based on years of service, which would allows pilots to change airlines without the significant loss of pay.

IMO its disingenuous for pilots and unions to use that argument, because they have brought it on themselves.

charlie
Guest

oops.

I meant to say “They demand to pay based on years of service with a particular airline rather than pay based on years of experience, which would allows pilots to change airlines without the significant loss of pay.”

Dan
Guest
Charlie, Note my comment on “the issues involved with airline pilot pay and the environment are quite complex, and aren’t something that can really be explored and resolved on a message board.” The point you raise is one of those. There are a couple of points I want to make in this regard: 1. Management wants it this way too. If one airline made this concession to their pilot group, I’d say maybe it’s something they gave the union for the sake of a contract. But every carrier does it with every work group. If this is something management *doesn’t*… Read more »
SteelHorseFlyer
Guest
There’s an old adage in the airline management biz… “If your airline isn’t growing, it’s dying”. What that means is that, as ALL the employee groups become more senior and cost more, if the airline isn’t adding new routes, new aircraft, and new employees, at the cheaper, new-hire salaries, then costs are going up (increased labor costs each year) without new revenue streams to offset them. The “pay more as you work somewhere longer” isn’t a concept novel only to the airline biz, and getting away from it is probably not an accomplishable task. As other have said, Charlie, unions… Read more »
James Craven
Guest

A house divided will not stand…
I know it’s not PC to stick up for SpiritAir, but we need an “unbundled” airline option like RyanAir in this country; all the other carriers offer bundled fares at different levels. This said, I hope ALPA and Spirit come to an agreement and all get back in the air where they belong.

G
Guest

We already have an unbundled airline option. It’s called Allegiant Air, and it’s the most profitable airline in the USA right now.

david
Member

In the long run, I think the pilots will lose out on this. Yes, I understand the need to stand up and ask for equal benefits, but don’t get too stuck on the fight and be willing to accept a deal. I know there are a lot of regional pilots who have been stuck at the regional level longer than usual (due to the economy) that are ready to move up to larger aircraft.

JP Santiago
Guest
My understanding is that the contract offered 90 hours/month flying and a $10K signing bonus if they agreed to only 7 days off per month. That doesn’t sound too bad but when pilots work, they’re away from home. That’s only 7 days at home each month. Spirit also uses a formula to determine seniority that combines date of hire with number of hours flown. The pilots want a straight date of hire as most airlines do. The chief pilot and the director of flight operations resigned yesterday and joined the picket lines. They are both well-regarded by the pilot corps… Read more »
G
Guest

That’s incorrect. They weren’t offered 90 hours a month flying. The contract just gave an example of how much they would make IF they flew 90 hours each month, which is impossible because they are restricted to flying only 1000 hours/year. Also, almost all their schedules are between 70-80 hours per month, rarely are they around 90 hours. It’s just another tactic by management to make it look like the pilots would earn more money than they actually would.

trackback

[…] in some cases those with the least amount of resources to begin with. Crankyflier has a great overview of the situation, including the comparative pay breakdown for pilots at other […]

Wendle T Katt
Guest

You mentioned pay for 8 year captains, what about for first and second year FO’s? Could you provide a point of reference for this please?

David SF eastbay
Member

Spirit could just shut the airline down today and put a help wanted sign up tomorrow and if any of those pilots wanted a job they and any other employee group would now be new hires started at what ever ‘new’ new hired salary Spirit wanted to start them at, and it wouldn’t be what they are offering now.

Sadly it’s all the other employees who are going to loose their jobs because of the pilots who with their current wages are making a lot more an hour then other employees.

trackback

[…] at least two influential travel bloggers, Steven Frischling (Flying with Fish) and Brett Snyder (CrankyFlier) are both asking the question: Could this strike be the end of […]

b757capt
Guest

Cranky, Anyway you look at it you have got an amazing turn out on the site today. Sounds like we are all very interested in Spirit News.

Elena
Guest

I have a flight on the 30th of June. What are the probablities of the strike ending by then??

Emily
Guest

This is a touchy subject. I remember reading that the Buffalo, NY Continental Commuter crash was potentially because the pilots were so underpaid, they had to work more shifts than they should have, making them tired and unfocused. I saw in a documentary that many younger pilots are paid so little, they have to live on foodstamps. I know it’s not as much of a concern with seasoned pilots who are paid more, but we put our lives in the hands of these people, and I want to make sure they are paid enough to do a good job!

SteelHorseFlyer
Guest
Thank you Emily, for your thoughts and support. No matter how much or little we are paid, it is our job to safely get you to your destination; any pilot who would claim that money makes a difference in how well they perform their job doesn’t need to wear the uniform. That said, yes, money makes a difference in quality of life and, in the case of the Colgan tragedy, whether the Captain was well-rested, or even well-qualified, but that’s an argument for another day. The cost for EVERYTHING goes up in life; labor costs included. Spirit management chose to… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

Yesterday my MAR/APR 2010 issue of Airliners magazine arrived, and yes this is June so they are behind for some reason.

Anyway, they have a three page story on Spirit and how wonderful things are for them and how Mister Baldanza says they are the Wal-Mart of the ailine biz and if you don’t like it, then fly someone else.

Well right now it seems everyone needs to fly someone else.

Ok, now I am wondering why this is a MAR/APR issue, usually magazines a month or two beyond the current month.

Conway
Guest
$67/hr. may sound like a lot of money to some, but the reality is that it equates to about $60,000 per year for a highly qualified and skilled pilot. Unacceptable. If you take an average cockpit cost for Spirit (Capt and FO salaries combined) it would appear to be about $190/hr. If you increase that cost by 50% to $270/hr, you are increasing you flight hour cost by $80. A typically Spirit flight has a block time of just under 3 hours. 3 X $80 = $240.00. Divide $240 by the number of passengers (average about 120) and you would… Read more »
SteelHorseFlyer
Guest
One easy reason why it’s not acceptable: it’s lower than *EVERY* other Major carrier out there, AirTran being the notable exception at $66 an hour with a nearly 10-year-old agreement that the pilots just voted almost 98% to strike over. Industry average 4th year F/O pay for that equipment is near the $85 an hour mark. Alaska, just inked a few months ago, is $93 an hour 4th year. Southwest 4th year F/O pay is $108 an hour. Second, that doesn’t equate to $60,000 a year; the company used a yearly comparison on credit hours that almost NO pilot is… Read more »
SteelHorseFlyer
Guest
No, you’re not wrong, was in a hurry posting and used $60 an hour instead of $67 on my calculator. Either way, $67 an hour, as I pointed out with the industry averages and some other airline’s examples, is sub-par for the industry. Your thoughts on a comparable “airline” may be what most non-pilots see, but that’s not how pilot wages work in this industry. We use a concept called “pattern bargaining”, whereby EVERY airline, whether it’s Allegiant or Delta, uses a “comparable equipment” comparison when coming up with pay rates. That means that, when bargaining between ANY union and… Read more »
Steve
Guest

So I’m just curious – if Spirit decides to cut their losses and close up shop, have the pilots “won”? Is that considered victory?

SteelHorseFlyer
Guest

No, of course not. No one WANTS a strike. No one WANTS to shut down an airline. But if that’s what it takes for ALL executives at ALL airlines to realize that labor is no longer going to sit back and exist on sub-standard wages, then so be it.

Management had carte blanch to mess with wages and benefits for the last decade. The pendulum always swings; this time it swings for us.

conway
Guest
Cranky, You stated above that even if Spirit could increase the fare by $2, why should all that money go to the pilots. I agree, raise them by a whopping $4.00 (McDonald’s extra value meal) and pay everyone a livable wage. In the last years, the airline industry has had several fare increases and has still seen their loads increase while relative capacity remains neutral. Hmm, does this tell you something? Perhaps the consumer can afford to pay a reasonable price for air travel. Watch next month as all the airline report a “miraculous” profit out of thin air. What… Read more »
We're Not Gonna Take It
Guest
Cranky, There’s an old saying. “Don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes.” If you had any clue of what it takes to get to the position of a 4 year First Officer you would not dare to claim that $60,000 a year is reasonable. The men and women that walk in those shoes have told you and the rest of the world that it is not. Furthermore, your arguments of how doctors and other skilled professions have seen pay declines do not hold water. An airline pilot can not leave their respective companies and work… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

@We’re Not Gonna Take It — Employment is not a right, nor is being paid above minimum wage for work performed a right.

We're Not Gonna Take It
Guest

Nor is it a right to force people not to strike.

David SF eastbay
Member

Just saw that Spirit and ALPA have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract and the pilots will go back to work on Friday. Ratification of the contract will take place in July.

Conway
Guest

Looks like Spirit management found their $2.00.

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