HOUSTON -- Continental Airlines pilots defied a union strike order today and kept jets of the bankrupt airline flying.
The strike officially began at 2 a.m. CDT, and about 50 employees immediately set up picket lines outside the Houston facility, said Gary Thomas, a spokesman for the Airline Pilots Association.
However, Continental Flight 447 left Fort Lauderdale International Airport for Houston with its regular pilots and 100 passengers at 7:49 a.m. EDT, three minutes late.
In Orlando, Fla., pilots who were to fly Continental Flight 189 failed to show up by the 8 a.m. EDT departure time.
Thirty-eight passengers waited in the airport for the Tampa-to-Houston Continental flight that was diverted to Orlando. The plane got off the ground at 9:09, one hour and nine minutes late.
A flight from Denver to Houston was also delayed because its pilots failed to report to work.
An airline spokesman in Orlando who asked not to be identified said, 'Unfortunately, we were delayed. The pilots didn't show up.' He refused futher comment.
Some of the striking pilots claimed Continental was pulling in pilots from New York Air Corp., a non-union airline also run by Frank Lorenzo, chairman of Continental, but company spokeswoman Stephanie Roth denied that.
'We couldn't be more pleased with the way things are going today,' she said. 'We are flying Continental pilots. Every pilot who is showing up is a union pilot.'
'We are exactly on schedule,' said Stuart Pollack, area sales manager for Continental. 'Everything we promised on the day we got back up, we are flying. We are getting them to their destinations.'
Continental spokesman Bruce Hicks said a flight from Auckland, New Zealand, to Honolulu took off as scheduled at 2:15 CDT with a full passenger load of 253.
'As Continental has said, we have more than enough pilots needed to operate the current schedule. They have given us their word of their intent, their willingness to fly despite this call for a strike by a few union leaders,' Hicks said.
Both sides predicted victory in the strike.
'I think it will be an effective strike,' said ALPA president Henry Duffy, president of Air Line Pilots Association, which offered to match working Continental pilots' salary with strike benefits.
'What the pilots union is doing right now does not have the support of the rank and file nor does it have the support of the flying public,' Continental Chairman Frank Lorenzo said.
Thomas said the company and the union talked for about eight hours Friday, but were unable to reach an agreement.
Hicks said Continental needed 350 pilots and 500 flight attendants to run its daily 118-flight schedule to 25 cities -- reduced from 508 flights to 78 cities before Continental filed for bankruptcy Sept. 24.
Leaders for the national ALPA continued meetings in Houston Friday to map strategy on a threatened industrywide shutdown unless the federal government eases the ravages of deregulation on the airline industry.
Among the major airlines, only American Airlines' 3,500 pilots are not represented by ALPA. Also not ALPA-organized are Southwest, World and Air Florida.
However, pilots for Delta Airlines, the nation's sixth largest air carrier, announced they would not honor the work stoppage.
Continental requested protection from creditors from the bankruptcy court in Chapter 11 papers filed last weekend. The company then resumed the curtailed domestic service Tuesday, recalling 4,200 of its 12,000 employees at half salary and longer hours, prompting the strike votes Wednesday and Thursday.
Despite favorable debts-to-assets figures, Lorenzo said the company would have run out of money by year's end and collapsed. He said Friday expected third quarter losses of 'more than $50 million' will prove he was telling the truth.
The unions countered that Continental's real objective was to break the unions and that Continental unfairly rejected good faith union offers to cut costs.