Bad publicity forces Spirit to do what is “just not fair”

Spirit Airlines has done a 180 in regards to the case of Jerry Meekins, a dying veteran who could not use his ticket. They went from this:

“Our reservations are non-refundable, which means we don’t do refunds and we are not going to issue Mr. Meekins a refund.”

The airline also said that it offers low-cost travel insurance that covers a variety of unexpected circumstances and added, “It wouldn’t be fair to bend the policy for one and not for all.”

“We receive many requests for refunds every day for similar situations. It wouldn’t be fair to bend policy for one and not all. We will not make customers who follow the rules pay for those who don’t. It’s just not fair.”

To this:

At a time of ever-rising airfares, Spirit Airlines makes commercial air travel affordable for many Americans. A very important part of keeping our airfares reasonably priced is our refund policy.

“Every day we seek to balance customer service with customers’ demands for the lowest airfare possible. But sometimes we make mistakes.

“In my statements regarding Mr. Meekins’ request for a refund, I failed to explain why our policy on refunds makes Spirit Airlines the only affordable choice for so many travelers, and I did not demonstrate the respect or the compassion that I should have, given his medical condition and his service to our country.

“Therefore I have decided to personally refund Mr. Meekins’ airfare, and Spirit Airlines will make a $5,000 contribution, in his name, to the charity of his choice, Wounded Warriors.

“We have worked hard to build a great company that makes air travel affordable while making our employees proud and customers satisfied. All of us at Spirit Airlines extend our prayers and best wishes to Mr. Meekins.

Now I have no problem with the CEO personally refunding airfare but I actually agree when Spirit says that they can’t offer a refund for one guy who chose not to buy travel insurance without being unfair to all the other folks who bought tickets but decided not to buy travel insurance.

What makes the Jerry Meekins case different? Well I’d like to say that it’s because he’s a veteran. So then Spirit should offer free insurance to all veterans who reserve tickets with them. Do you see that happening?

The next possibility is that his doctors thought it would be better if he didn’t fly. Then again, most doctors will tell you that flying isn’t good for you. For example, a chiropractor told my wife there was no way she could protect her bad back on a long flight.

But then again, this was a terminal case – not just a bad back. Maybe everyone who gets diagnosed with something life threatening should be able to get a refund? In this case, Mr. Meekins knew he had cancer but learned it was terminal after buying the ticket.

Or, we just have to face that the media coverage probably made Spirit cave this time, even though it hasn’t seemed to stop them from making sexist and controversial ads. Chances are that what’s right or what’s fair had nothing to do with either decision.

And finally, why do Americans feel entitled to refunds when they don’t buy travel insurance? I wonder if people in other countries feel the same way because I understand that travel insurance is a far more common investment in Europe than it is in America.

I’ve been called cold-hearted before (but I think I’m just misunderstood), but it seems to me that when you buy a ticket you should either buy the insurance or decide that you’re willing to take a chance that something unforeseen will prevent you from traveling.

Filed Under: Tourism marketing

Comments (4)

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  1. Kel says:

    I think refunding Mr. Meekins’ money was the right thing to do. He was not medically cleared to fly, and since he was dying he never would recover enough to be medically cleared to fly. A voucher would do him no good. This was not a case of someone’s plans changing, the man is dying! How greedy does a company have to be to profit from selling a dying old man a product he cannot use, and per their own rules cannot return, or transfer to someone else?

    Keeping Mr. Meekins’ $197 was mean spirited. If they cannot make a profit without soaking the suddenly dying they need a better business model.

  2. Linda Bator says:

    I do feel like you do — when you choose to purchase something with restrictions, you have to be prepared to live with those restrictions. That is why insurance is offered. Although in this case, I would have made an exception (proof of terminal illness), if a company chooses to follow its own rules, I don’t think its fair for anyone to try and browbeat them into MAKING that exception. After all, they really do not have to. It just comes from that sense of entitlement everyone seems to suffer from.

  3. Mike says:

    You are absolutely right. Choices have consequences, he made a choice. The person that initiated the media contact and the media that publicized this are in the wrong, not Spirit.

  4. […] says charging for carry-ons is a good thing, just like charging dead people for their tickets: It has helped speed the boarding process, ensured sufficient overhead space is available for all […]

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