More than 60 Spirit Airlines pilots took to the sidewalks outside DFW International Airport’s Terminal E on Friday to protest the lack of a new contract after more than two years of negotiations.
“We’re seeking to make this a destination airline,” said Capt. Paul Slotten, a member of the pilots’ negotiating committee. “This is a place where we want pilots to come and spend their careers.”
About 220 Spirit pilots are based in Dallas, according to the Air Line Pilots Association, International, which represents aviators at Spirit and more than a dozen airlines, including United and Delta. The number of Dallas pilots could grow as the Miramar, Fla.-based airline, known for its cheap fares and numerous fees, pursues continued expansion.
The company — still small compared to industry leaders such as American Airlines and Southwest — has grown its network by an average of 22 percent per year from 2012 through 2016, with its fleet doubling in size to 95 aircraft during that same period. Its growing presence has caused headaches for major airlines who have seen fares pressured in some markets by Spirit’s rock-bottom prices.
Spirit’s success is tied to its ultra-low-cost model and a fanatical attention to controlling expenses, something it’s trying to balance as pilots seek their first new contract since 2010.
Friday’s demonstration is the latest action in an at times contentious back and forth between pilots and the carrier.
Earlier this year, Spirit blamed 850 canceled flights on a pilot slowdown that disrupted operations and cost the company $45 million in the second quarter.
In 2016, Spirit pilots on average earned 20 percent less in wages than pilots at ultra-low-cost-carrier Frontier Airlines, and about 50 percent less than larger carriers American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, according to figures from
Slotten said Spirit pilots are looking to strike a “market rate” contract that balances increased compensation along with improvements to benefits, work rules and career opportunities.
“A lot of the younger and even mid-career people are looking at career progression. Is this a decision that’s going to lead to me getting where I want to be 10, 20 or 30 years down the road,” he said. “What we’re trying to avoid is what we’re seeing right now; this place has become kind of a revolving door.”
Spirit executives have previously indicated that the company needs to strike a deal that allows for more operational reliability and flexibility from its pilots as it continues to aggressively grow the airline. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
The two sides have been negotiating since February 2015, Slotten said, and recent talks have included federal mediators. But no formal negotiations have taken place since September.
“The deal is in sight,” Slotten said. “The pilots want a deal. We believe the company wants a deal. But hard decisions are going to have to be made.”