Business

Spirit Airlines forced to cancel flights as pilots pressure management in contract negotiations.

A simmering dispute between Spirit Airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association heated up Monday. The airline argued in court documents that pilots declined to accept junior assignments on some flights or to pick up available “open time flying” assignments, which led to systemwide flight  cancellations in flights serving Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, and other cities.

The airline found a sympathetic ear in court. A U.S. District Court judge in Fort Lauderdale granted its request for a temporary restraining order against the pilots’ work slowdown. A hearing is scheduled on May 15.

Pilots deny they participated in a slowdown but vowed to work with the airline to restore normal operations.

Spirit said the slowdown forced the cancelation of 300 flights affecting more than 20,000 customers. The airline estimated it lost $8.5 million in direct revenue and “irreparable harm to its goodwill.”

Spirit’s contract negotiations with pilots have dragged on for more than two years. The talks are now conducted under the supervision of the National Mediation Board in Washington, DC. Pilots have asked for $1.9 billion in wages, retirement packages, profit-sharing, and adjusted back pay for five years.

“We are disappointed that ALPA has decided to engage in this unlawful slowdown,” said Spirit spokesman Paul Berry. “This is clearly unlawful activity under the Railway Labor Act, which governs labor relations in the airline industry. ALPA and those individuals responsible should be held accountable.”

 “The court has spoken and Spirit pilots will fully comply with the order handed down, which is completely in line with our overriding goal: the resumption of normal operations,” the union said. “We call on the company to join forces with ALPA and the Spirit pilots to do just that.”

Spirit’s stock fell 2.3 percent to $56.11 in Nasdq trading on Tuesday.