Spirit Reverses Decision on Dying Vet's Request for Ticket Refund, Donates $5K to Charity

UPDATE: Veteran Jerry Meekins died July 10, 2012.

Earlier update:

May 4, 3:45 p.m.: Spirit Airlines has released a statement from CEO Ben Baldanza:

"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."

Original story:

May 1, 3 p.m.: Last week, FareCompare took note of a story about a Vietnam veteran's inability to get a refund for a Spirit Airlines ticket he can no longer use. 76-year-old Jerry Meekins had planned to visit his daughter while she had surgery, but the ex-marine – who is dying of cancer – was recently told by his doctor that his immune system is now "too ravaged" to make the trip.

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Spirit: Must be Fair to All Customers

Today, FareCompare contacted Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson to see if the airline had a change of heart after a week of brutal publicity. The answer: no, it has not. Meekins will not receive a full or partial refund for the airline ticket he can no longer use.

Pinson explained via email that while they are "saddened" by Meekins' situation, the airline cares about all its customers, and indicated the only way to continue offering the low fares Spirit is famous for is by adhering to the no-refund policy. Pinson continued: "If we provided refunds to customers whose situations change, the cost of the refunds would be shared by every other Spirit customer." According to Pinson, customers are offered optional extras (for sometimes hefty fees), and these extras include travel insurance.

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What Other Airlines Do about 'No Refund' Tickets

Some airlines do allow customers an out when it comes to non-refundable ticket refunds, including United. Here's what it says on its website:

"United will refund change fees and tickets in certain cases. All requests must be received before the expiration of your ticket and must be accompanied by proper documentation (see below). Once received, if applicable, a refund will be provided to the original form of payment minus a $50 USD processing fee. This policy applies to the illness or death of the traveler, traveling companion, or immediate family members."

Check with your airline's contract of carriage for more information or give them a call. In most cases, some documentation or other proof will be required.

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Backlash Against Spirit

Meanwhile, outrage is building on the internet and a Boycott Spirit Facebook page is said to be gathering steam (and Likes), which begs the question: does Spirit wish it had simply refunded this ex-marine's ticket quietly when it had the chance to do so?

Maybe not. A few years back, Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza slammed a critic who said he'd never fly Spirit again by predicting, "[He] will be back when we save him a penny." It's not clear if that critic ever did go back to Spirit, but millions happily fly the airline for its rock-bottom prices.

Back to Spirit spokeswoman Pinson and Meekins' situation – as she noted in her email, "Unfortunately, unexpected curves are a part of life for everyone." Just ask Jerry Meekins.

Anne McDermott
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