Last week a story broke across media outlets that really shocked me. Jerry Meekins is a 76 year old dying Vietnam veteran who was forced to cancel a plane ticket he had already purchased due to a health condition. The airlines (Spirit Airlines) refused to refund the $197 ticket, saying “We feel very badly for Mr. Meekins, however, this is a country and society where we kind of play by the rules. And he wanted to really not do that and that’s really not fair to the 10 million other Spirit customers and that’s why we made that decision.”
As you can imagine this did not go over well with veterans or many others. As a veteran myself, I knew that the backlash from Vet groups was going to be swift and heavy hitting. Throughout the following days, veterans and their friends picketed terminals, sent letters to Spirit’s CEO, made public statements, and generally tried to bring awareness to the travesty that Spirit Airlines was trying to get away with.
As usual veterans won. Late last week, Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza announced that he would be reversing the refund descion and personally refund Mr. Meekins. In addition to the $197 refund, a $5,000 donation was also made to the Wounded Warrior Project. In hindsight Spirit should probably have given the initial refund huh?
This unfortunate story is a lesson to every business in customer service. A small investment up front in treating people right can save you a lot of money and headache later on. If Spirit had refunded the ticket initially, they would have saved $5,000 and not risked tarnishing their public image. Who knows how many potential customers they lost due to the media attention. We live in a high-tech world but customers still come first.
I preach it in many articles but being authentic and transparent is good for business in the long run. People like to see that a corporation is compassionate and has humans running it. At the end of the day, your name and reputation are the only things you have. Are you willing to risk them for any amount of money?