Karen Masullo is EVP, Social Media for Firestorm Solutions, LLC. In addition to serving as Firestorm Solution's own in-house social media advisor, she also serves on the Firestorm Solutions Expert Council and delivers social media strategy and policy services for Firestorm clients.
UPDATE: 05/4/2012 5:00 PM
Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza has issued a statement:
"At a time of ever-rising airfares, Spirit Airlines makes commercial air travel affordable for many Americans. A very important part of keeping our airfares reasonably priced is our refund policy.
"Every day we seek to balance customer service with customers' demands for the lowest airfare possible. But 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.
"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."
Earlier Article: 05/04/2012 6:33 AM
Spirit Airlines reported a first-quarter profit of $23.4 million, compared with $7.9 million a year earlier.
Given that, you’d think they could afford to refund a ticket for a traveler unable to use the ticket. A proud Veteran. A proud Veteran whose physician advised him that flying was not wise given the Veteran’s weakened immune system as a result of his current medical condition.
Former Marine Jerry Meekins, 76, of Clearwater, Fla., has terminal esophageal cancer. He had planned to use the $197 ticket to visit his daughter, recovering from an operation, in Atlantic City, NJ, until his physician advised him not to fly. (See Video at article end).
He contacted the airline, Spirit, to request a refund, going so far as to provide his medical information and pre-planned, funeral arrangement documents. The airline’s response?
A terse, one word “No.”
When I began writing this piece on Tuesday May 1st, a Boycott Spirit Facebook page had 6200 “likes. This morning it has 30,724...wait 30,753, oops 30, 741...well, you get the idea.
For the past four days, the message has been re-shared thousands of times on Twitter, LinkedIn, on hundreds of blogs, and through every major news outlet and elsewhere.
According to various media reports, Spirit officials say their refusal to compromise helps them keep costs down for all passengers, and notes that passengers can pay extra for insurance that enables them to apply for refunds -- an option Meekins did not take.
Concurrently, Spirit launched an ad campaign offering low-cost flights to Colombia at $19.80 featuring bikini-clad women and a man in a black suit with earpiece, an obvious jab at the Secret Service, featuring the tagline “More bang for your buck.”
"We do a variety of fun, cheeky ads to promote our ultra-low fares," airline spokeswoman Misty Pinson said.
Fun and cheeky? Use one less model in the promo image and refund Mr. Meekins his $197.00 fare.
But wait, they’re not done; on the heels of the continued press coverage and growing social media campaigns against Spirit’s refusal to refund Mr. Meekins' ticket, the airline chose this time to announce that they will raise carry-on bag fees (to up to $100 for checking at gate - effective Nov. 6, 2012), becoming the first U.S. airline to charge so much for a service that most other airlines offer for free.
The Twitterverse has enthusiastically re-shared that particular message.
How easy would it have been to create a “Spirit Flies” program and offer Veterans and Wounded Warriors a special promotion, even if only for a limited time? Imagine the goodwill that could have created. Instead of “cheeky” models in a cut-rate ad campaign, feature proud members of the armed services and give something back. How many of Spirit's own Pilots are Veterans?
I understand that a policy is a policy, but a customer is a customer.
Without customers, policies don’t mean a thing.
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