Spirit Airlines Resumes Flights After Pilots Reach Deal
MIRAMAR, Fla. -- Spirit Airlines passengers began trickling in to its departure terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Thursday even as the airline geared up to resume a full schedule of 150 flights on Friday.

It flew 22 flights Thursday, including nine from Fort Lauderdale, as it scrambled to reposition pilots and planes after a five-day strike.

Spirit's job now is to rebuild customer support among the nearly 100,000 passengers who were inconvenienced by the pilots' walkout.

"I'm not very happy with Spirit," said Megan Doepker, a student from Canada, who was on her way home Thursday after backpacking across Central America.

Doepker said she was not notified about the pilots' strike nor that the insurance she purchased for her ticket would not cover her because it was purchased after May 11. In order to get home, Doepker had to purchase a more expensive ticket on another carrier.

"I'm a student," she said. "Money is tight and I had to spend the money."

Spirit Chief Executive Officer Ben Baldanza said the chief problem for fliers was that when their flights were canceled they couldn't find a comparably priced alternative.

In an attempt to get passengers back in Spirit seats, the company will be offering 20,000 Spirit air miles to those who had flights booked between June 10 and June 17, Chief Marketing Officer Barry Biffle said.

He said that is enough for one free flight, but if the customer has a Spirit credit card it's the equivalent of four free flights.

Additionally, anyone booking a flight until midnight Friday through Spirit's website will receive 5,000 Spirit air miles and a $50 credit.

The company reached an agreement with its pilots union Wednesday that would bring the pilots' pay much closer to counterparts at Jet Blue Airways and AirTran Airways, union officials said.

"We have an agreement in place that will allow us to grow," said Biffle, who described the agreement as "fair and equitable."

Company spokeswoman Misty Pinson said the company would not release specific details of the agreement but described it as "mutually beneficial."

Spirit Airlines and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport upper management were on hand Thursday afternoon to speak with customers and staff and make sure the airline's operations resumed smoothly.

"We are very happy to see that they're back, not just for the passengers but for all the people around here," said Fort Lauderdale Airport Director of Aviation Kent George, referring to employees such as ramp workers and flight attendants.

The Fort Lauderdale airport lost about $40,000 a day as a result of the strike, according to airport spokesman Greg Meyer.

Spirit was mum about its losses. According to U.S. Department of Transportation data, it collected about $2 million a day in revenue in the second quarter of 2009. Baldanza declined to confirm that its revenue losses were in that range this year, but said the company is conducting internal accounting to determine the cost of the strike.

Despite the free miles, some customers were still upset with Spirit and the strike.

"It's a joke that Spirit is offering me a $100 credit," said Mark McElyea, a sales manager for a car dealership in Toledo, Ohio.

McElyea said he was monitoring the strike while on vacation with his wife and son in the Florida Keys. To get home, he had to book a flight with Southwest Airlines, paying nearly $800. Comparing the credit he received to what he paid, McElyea said Spirit Airline's $100 was "an insult."

"It's amazing how other people's problems become my own," McElyea said.