Passengers and employees of Spirit Airlines aren’t the only ones being impacted by the pilots’ strike, which is in its fifth day.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is losing about $40,000 a day in fees, according to airport spokesman Greg Meyer.
While other airlines are lowering fares to attract Spirit fliers – and one carrier, JetBlue Airways, has added an additional route between Fort Lauderdale and San Juan, Puerto Rico – it’s not known at this point how much other airlines can make up for the gap left by the strike-addled Spirit.
“Approximately 6,400 passengers were enplaned by Spirit daily, of which approximately 5,600 originated at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood,” Meyer said of Spirit’s average performance leading up to the strike. “Other airlines could currently accommodate about 2,200 of Spirit’s passengers based on current load factors at the airport.”
That would leave more than 60 percent of Spirit passengers who fly from FLL hunting for other options.
Spirit pilots walked off the job Saturday morning, forcing the Miramar-based airline to cancel flights, at least through Thursday.
On Tuesday, talks between Spirit and its striking pilots resumed at the request of the National Mediation Board.
At the same time, the airline furloughed more than 600 flight attendants until the pilots’ strike ends.
Further underscoring Spirit’s importance is the fact that FLL is heavily used by cruise passengers at nearby Port Everglades, the world’s second-busiest cruise port, after the Port of Miami.
And, there’s also the matter of Spirit’s ticket prices, considered to be among the lowest in the industry, said Nicki Grossman, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. Without Spirit’s attractive prices available to customers, some travelers may not come.
“I think the fare structure is going to have a more damaging effect on people changing their travel plans than you would think offhand,” Grossman noted.
With the soft economy, the threat of oil from the Gulf of Mexico hitting South Florida’s shores and the start of hurricane season, the strike comes at an inopportune time for tourism. Spirit carries a substantial number of visitors from Latin America, many of whom come in the summer, Grossman said, adding that her organization is extremely concerned.
“We absolutely hope and pray there’s a quick resolution to the pilots’ grievances,” she said.