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Under pressure, Spirit to give terminally-ill vet refund

Posted by Paul Makishima, Globe Assistant Sunday Editor  May 4, 2012 06:12 PM

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Facing a wave of criticism, the chief executive of Spirit Airlines reversed his position on refusing a terminally-ill 76-year-old Florida veteran's request for a $197 ticket refund.

Chief executive Ben Baldanza said that he would give Jerry Meekins of Clearwater, Fla., a refund and that Spirit would make a $5,000 contribution in the name of the veteran to the nonprofit organization Wounded Warrior Project.

Meekins, a Vietnam veteran, bought tickets to visit his daughter in New Jersey, but then was diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer and his doctor judged him too sick to fly.

Meekins approached Spirit in April about his situation. He said he provided evidence of his medical condition and asked for a refund. A company representative refused, citing the carrier's no-refund policy. The airline did offer Meekins a credit, but he said the offer would do him no good.

Meekins held protests at Tampa International Airport, and veterans groups have voiced outrage about the situation.

In an interview with a Florida television station last week, Baldanza said, "It's kind of hard to draw the line to say one person's story is empathetic enough or detailed enough we should go ahead and violate the policy really at the expense of everyone else." He went on to suggest that Meekins should have considered buying a $14 travel insurance policy.

On Friday afternoon, Baldanza changed his position and admitted "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,'' he explained in a statement released by Spirit.

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