Was Spirit Airlines on your radar a couple weeks ago? It wasn’t on mine—I don’t think I ever booked a flight with them. Now it’s the airline I’m not supposed to fly. Ever.
On April 22, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Spirit refused to refund the price of a ticket to Jerry Meekins, a Vietnam vet suffering from esophageal cancer, who learned after booking a flight that he had only a couple months to live and wouldn’t be able to fly because of his compromised immune system. Meekins had purchased a $197 nonrefundable ticket, and despite his condition, no exception would be made in his case, he was told by Spirit. Then comes the kicker: Exceptions are made when the person who is to fly dies before the date of the flight, if a death certificate can be produced.
Meekins told the Tampa Bay Times that Spirit’s response is “un-American,” and you know what that led to—unremitting coverage from Fox News.
Calling for a boycott of Spirit on Facebook was inevitable. Mashable reported that a “Boycott Spirit Airlines” page that launched in 2010 and which had 700 likes earlier this week has been the proverbial flame for the social media moths; the page had 37,000 likes as of late afternoon on May 4.
In an interview with FoxNews.com published on May 3, Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza said that Meekins gave up the right to a refund when he chose not to purchase travel insurance, and that Spirit would not make an exception in his case. He also told FoxNews.com that Spirit’s industry-leading rate of customer complaints is an “irrelevant statistic,” and focused instead on the many customers who don’t complain and who care more about the cheap flights the highly profitable airline offers than about its customer service. You sort of get the feeling the Spirit PR team doesn’t have a seat at the so-called executive table.
Emphasizing value and dismissing customer service has been a successful strategy for Spirit—until now. Profit rules, yes. But paying customers can turn on a company on a dime, en masse, nowadays. And when that happens, there go the profits.
As of 4:47 p.m., May 4, Baldanza is still CEO of Spirit Airlines. Check this space next week.
UPDATE: Late on May 4, FoxNews.com reported that Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza will personally refund Meekins’ $197 airfare. In addition, Spirit will make a $5,000 donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.
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