Dying man pickets Spirit Airlines over refund policy

Vietnam veteran Jerry Meekins pickets Spirit Airlines on Tuesday at its check-in counter at Tampa International Airport.
Vietnam veteran Jerry Meekins pickets Spirit Airlines on Tuesday at its check-in counter at Tampa International Airport.
Published April 25, 2012

Jerry Meekins will spend the last months of his life in a battle with both cancer and Spirit Airlines.

On Tuesday, Meekins, 76, and three other veterans with the American Legion picketed in front of the airline's check-in counter at Tampa International Airport. They want Spirit to create a refund policy for sick and dying customers.

Under Spirit's current policy, customers' airfares will be only partly refunded if they die before their flights.

"That's sick," Meekins said. "Hopefully, the public thinks it's sick, too."

A Vietnam veteran and former police officer, Meekins is dying from esophageal cancer.

He bought a plane ticket from Spirit Airlines in March, before he learned he only has a few months left to live. He was going to fly to New Jersey to visit his daughter, who is having surgery next month. Meekins needs to take care of her while she recovers.

Because his treatments have weakened his immune system, Meekins' doctors have told him that he is too sick to fly. He called Spirit last week to get his $197 back, but he was told that all tickets were nonrefundable. No exceptions.

"(Spirit) should have a policy for situations like this," said Carol Gray, Meekins' girlfriend.

Meekins wants the airline to care enough to look at customer needs on a case-by-case basis. He hopes that with enough public pressure, Spirit may show compassion to those with special circumstances.

"This was never just about the money," he said.

If the airline does decide to give him the refund, Meekins said he wants the check made out to the Wounded Warrior Project, a program that provides aid to injured soldiers.

Bill Hamblin, the commander of American Legion Post No. 5 in Tampa, thinks Spirit should make an exception for a dying man. If it doesn't, he predicts that Spirit will lose a lot of customers.

"If they don't do something, I won't fly it," Hamblin said.

Misty Pinson, spokeswoman for Spirit Airlines, said that while the airline sympathizes with Meekins, it is standing firm on its no-refund policy. She said the airline hears about situations like his all the time, and it wouldn't be fair to the airline's other customers if it were to bend the rules for him.

"We don't make exceptions to that policy just because a person has an unusual circumstance or goes to the media," she said.