Dying Veteran, Public Pressure Move Spirit

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Spirit Airlines Friday reversed an April decision to not refund a ticket after word spread that the ticket-holder was a Vietnam War veteran who says he decided not to take his flight after learning he was terminally ill. Jerry Meekins says he bought the ticket two weeks before doctors told him his condition was terminal and advised him not to fly. He says he contacted the airline for a refund and was turned away. At the time, a local news station (WFLA-TV) sought comment from Spirit and said the reply included, "Our reservations are non-refundable, which means we don't do refunds and we are not going to issue Mr. Meekins a refund." Facing public calls for a Spirit Airlines boycott, the airline has now changed its tune, sending a personal message.

A statement released Friday by Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza says in part, "Every day we seek to balance customer service with customers' demands for the lowest airfare possible. But sometimes we make mistakes." The statement goes on to say, "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." Amid those comments, the statement notes the airline's goal of keeping airfares low and that its refund policy is "a very important part" of that agenda. The statement concludes, "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."