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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