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Spirit Airlines cancels flights through Tuesday

Spirit Airlines is canceling all of its flights through Tuesday.

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Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is Spirit's main hub, where it is the only airline to 14 international cities and five U.S. destinations, airport spokesman Greg Meyer said. Around the country Spirit runs roughly 150 flights per day.

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Dozens more angry passengers waited at Spirit ticket counters Sunday morning, many vowing never to use the airline again. Children sat on beds made of luggage, waiting and playing video games. Extra Spirit staff and local police officers were posted in the ticketing area.

Outside nearly a dozen uniformed pilots held signs, a few marched peacefully in a circle.

"We do sympathize with (the passengers)," said Spirit pilot Travis Wheat. He said they tried to warn passengers of a pending strike weeks earlier with billboards and press releases.

Finding a hotel room while waiting to depart hasn't been easy either.

Lace Alvarado, who books reservations for the Compass Cove Resort hotel in Myrtle Beach, S.C., one of Spirit's destinations, said the strike so far hasn't sparked many cancellations. However, a few stranded travelers have called to try to book rooms, but weren't able to be accommodated because the hotel is filled with vacationers getting away from beaches near the gulf that have shown signs of oily refuse from BP's spill, she said.

Spirit said Sunday it offered to raise pilot pay by about 29 percent over five years — a move that would have cost the company an additional $70 million. Work rule changes would mean pilots would have to fly more to earn that money, however. Spirit's offer also kept a four-day break between every pilot trip, something the company said no other ALPA contract has. The offer also included a $3,000 signing bonus and a larger retirement plan match.

"It is surprising to me that ALPA would turn down this generous offer that would have paid senior captains over $200,000 per year," said Spirit Airlines President and CEO Ben Baldanza in a statement. "I am concerned that our employees are being used in a broader political game that may not be in the interest of their careers or their families. This deal should be about Spirit and Spirit only, not about the pilots whose contracts are under negotiation at other ALPA carriers."

But Capt. Sean Creed, chairman of the Air Lines Pilot Association group at Spirit, said Sunday that the company's offer only matches inflation. He said that he's looking to have wages for Spirit pilots competitive with those at rivals like JetBlue Airways Corp.

Creed noted that a captain with 10 years' experience at JetBlue earns about $158 an hour; that compares with $138 an hour for a Spirit captain with 15 years' experience.

"We are looking for parity," he said. He noted the proposed increase is good but "it's spread out too far."

Baldanza said in an interview Saturday that Spirit has made money over the past year and a half and he knew its pilots would need raises. He had added that he hoped to get some of Spirit's 31 aircraft flying soon with management pilots or others who cross the picket line. No such flights have yet taken place.

The carrier has about 440 active pilots.

The strike is being closely watched in the industry because pilots at much larger carriers, including AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, are also locked in tough negotiations.

The last strike at a major carrier was in 2005, when Northwest Airlines mechanics walked off the job rather than accept deep pay cuts. The strike failed after Northwest replaced them.