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Posted: 12:44 p.m. Monday, May 7, 2012

Spirit Airlines faces public wrath over dying Vietnam vet's case

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By Clark Howard


The Internet and social media have changed the balance of power between individuals and companies that treat them badly.

Spirit Airlines is a company that I routinely trash for their horrendous contempt of the customer that comes from the top down. Spirit is the kind of company you think I would love because they, along with Allegiant, are one of two big discounters. But that's far from the case because we get a ton of complaints about Spirit.

Recently, Spirit was unusually cruel to a dying Vietnam veteran. Jerry Meekins of Clearwater, Fla., 76, was suffering from esophageal cancer when he bought a ticket thinking he'd be well enough to travel. When he was not, the airline refused to refund his money, which is not unusual as most players in the industry take that stance.

But in this case, Spirit was beyond insensitive. Well, the issue blew up on Facebook and pretty soon 40,000 people were voicing their outrage over the Meekins case online. Finally, Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza -- probably my least favorite CEO in America -- decided the bad publicity was eating them up. So he personally refunded the cost of the $197 ticket out of his own pocket. And now the airline is donating $5,000 to Wounded Warriors.

This is such a lesson for corporate America about the power of the marketplace. One lone voice that used to stand helpless against a corporate behemoth can now truly be David bringing Goliath to his knees.

As for Baldanza, Benny Boy, you disgust me -- and I don't normally say that about CEOs. You need to grow up. You need to get over your emotional immaturity and learn to treat customers with dignity, decency and respect. There's nothing wrong with all the crazy rules that come with flying Spirit, but do them with a good spirit, not the one you have tended to embody day after day and year after year.

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