Spirit Airlines flights were canceled Saturday after the discount carrier's pilots declared a strike over pay, leaving thousands of travelers in the lurch.

At LaGuardia Airport, one of more than a dozen U.S. airports the airline serves, customers scrambled to make alternate plans.

Margarita Figuera of Lakeland, Fla., planned to head home with her husband and teen son last night after spending three weeks in New York and New Jersey.

She said the airline did not notify her that her 7:30 p.m. flight to Fort Lauderdale had been canceled until she arrived at the airport.

"This has created a lot of stress for me," said Figuera, who eventually bought tickets for a JetBlue flight.


Spirit said it would refund fares and issue $100 vouchers to customers.

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The carrier and its roughly 440 active pilots have been in negotiations for more than three years. Spirit pilots have said their pay lags behind competitors such as AirTran Airways and JetBlue.

"In the end, both sides could not reach an agreement," said Sean Creed, a Spirit captain and the head of the airline's branch of the Air Line Pilots Association, in a statement on the union's website. He said pilots "will not return to the cockpit until a fair and equitable contract is negotiated."

Spirit chief executive Ben Baldanza said the airline was "frustrated and disappointed" that pilots rejected an offer to raise pilot pay by 30 percent over five years, the AP reported. The offer also included a $3,000 signing bonus and a larger retirement plan match.

In a statement, Baldanza said the strike amounted to "disrupting thousands of our customers and jeopardizing the livelihood of our over 2,000 employees."

Spirit, based in Miramar, Fla., carries more than 16,000 passengers a day, roughly 1 percent of U.S. air passengers, according to The Associated Press.

The carrier runs about 150 flights a day nationwide, and also flies to destinations in South America and the Caribbean via Fort Lauderdale, where it is the biggest airline, the AP said.

With Rachel Bryson-Brockmann and AP