Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza pulled a U-turn on Friday, announcing that he would personally refund the ticket of terminally ill veteran, Jerry Meekins.
The airline received a significant amount of flack from both the public and veterans, who came to Meekins' defense in droves. In an interview with Fox News on May 1, Meekins called Spirit's refusal to refund his plane ticket (which he purchased before he knew he was terminal) "unconscionable."
The 76-year-old veteran contacted Spirit Airlines in April to explain the situation and ask for a refund, but a company representative told him that the tickets were non-refundable. Meekins even offered to provide evidence of his diagnosis, but the company still denied his request.
Last month, Spirit Airlines said in a written statement that though they empathized with Meekins, they worried that making one exception would open the door to other customers:
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.
CEO Ben Baldanza received a barrage of complaints from the public, and a Facebook page entitled “Boycott Spirit Airlines” hit more than 30,000 supporters on Friday. It had only 700 earlier this week, Fox News reports. (It's possible that news of the airline's new carry-on bag fees might have had something to do with the bump.)
As such, Baldanza issued a statement saying that "sometimes we make mistakes." Baldanza also announced that the airline will also make a $5,000 contribution in Meekins' name to the Wounded Warriors Project, USA Today reports.
The statement continued:
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."