Airline strike dampens traveller's spirit
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
Fort Lauderdale, Florida:
At 1 p.m. yesterday, the usually busy Spirit Air counters at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, Florida, were empty as pilots stayed off the job crippling the low-cost carrier.
"I have to go bury my mom. I was suppose to have selected the casket from yesterday and when I get to Jamaica this evening it will be too late," lamented Dorian Spence, a passenger who was at the airport for a second day.
Spence's mother is being buried in St Elizabeth this weekend and the funeral programmes are not ready.
"And the grave is not dug yet," she said, her face signalling the disappointment that was evident in her tone.
"They really messed us up," bemoaned the elderly woman who travelled two hours from Naples, Florida, on Monday, to the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, but had to make the trek back home.
Like her, thousands of passengers across the United States and the Caribbean have been left stranded in airports since last Saturday when the pilots went on strike for more pay.
Spence's two nieces, Melrose Spence and Blossom Augustin, were also inconvenienced. The three were forced to purchase one-way tickets on former national carrier, Air Jamaica. The tickets cost US$289 each and they are yet to determine how they will return to the United States.
"They (Spirit) told us they would refund us our monies within three to five business days, but who knows when that will happen," said Augustin, who complained that the airline promised to reroute its passengers, but when she got to the airport it was a different matter.
According to Augustin, the situation was worsened by the fact that she spent three hours on the phone on Sunday night waitingto speak with a Spirit Air representative.
Returning to Fort Lauderdale with Air Jamaica is not a very attractive option for her either, as that carrier has a 13-hour layover in Kingston before its customers can get to that Florida destination.
Spirit Air passengers travelling via the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay on Monday also presented a windfall for Air Jamaica.
"It was chaos here this morning. Many of the passengers went on badly, as basically they had to buy their own ticket to exit and they bought from us," an Air Jamaica customer service agent told The Gleaner.
In the meantime, Spirit says it will start flying on Thursday, June 17, two days after it announced it would have resumed flights.
Hoping to clarify what they have claimed is Spirit's fair and equitable offer that was turned down by the union, the airline said ALPA turned down a compounded average 29 per cent pay increase costing the company an additional US$70 million over five years, net of productivity improvements agreed to by the pilots. It said the pilots would have earned an additional 47 per cent in compensation over five years and further bonuses and extras, with many taking home over US$200,000 annually
Just for Spirit fliers
In a media release, the airline said it was processing future flight credits for customers for the full amount of their unflown flight purchase, and is also giving them a US$100 future-flight credit.
Customers who prefer a full refund may call 1 (800) 772-7117 for assistance. Customers who made their reservation prior to May 11, 2010 and purchased travel insurance can call Travel Guard at +1 (866) 877-3191 to discuss coverage questions and to start an insurance claim. Policyholders may have valuable coverage for Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption due to the pilots strike.