Published May 01, 2012
Spirit Airlines is finding out that if you take on one old soldier, you can end up facing an army.
Veterans groups around the nation are rallying to the side of dying Vietnam veteran and former Marine Jerry Meekins, 76, of Clearwater, Fla., following the airline’s refusal to refund him $197 for a ticket after the doctor treating him for terminal esophageal cancer told him not to fly. Meekins told FoxNews.com he's received "hundreds of calls" from veterans nationwide who are as mad at Spirit as he is.
“The response from most veterans is that they’re going to boycott Spirit Airlines,” Meekins told FoxNews.com. “We’re talking 6 or 7 million people.”
Military men and women, who live the credo of taking care of their own, can't believe an airline would turn its back on someone who had sacrificed so much. Meekins said Spirit denied his request even though he provided a note from his physician and his prepaid funeral service to the airline.
“They’ve got no humanity, they’ve got no patriotism,” Peter Forbes, president of the Veterans of the Vietnam War and the Veterans Coalition, told FoxNews.com. “[Meekins] deserves a little bit better treatment … Give him a hand up and not a handout, he’s not asking for much at all.”
Spirit has a hard-and-fast "no refund" rule for customers who don't pay extra for insurance, and while company officials expressed sympathy for Meekins, they refuse to make an exception in his case. The ex-cop had hoped to fly to Atlantic City to see his daughter, who is undergoing an operation, but was grounded by his doctor -- then denied by Spirit. Meekins made it up by land, and was with his daughter Tuesday - no thanks to the notoriously tight-fisted airline. Meekins would've liked to have put the ticket money into his gas tank for the two-day drive north.
In addition to ticking off veterans everywhere, his plight has given a shot in the arm to the “Boycott Spirit Airlines” Facebook page.
Forbes said his 70,000-member, Pennsylvania-based organization fired off a letter to the Fort Lauderdale-based carrier, calling on it to reverse its decision.
"What would have happened if this patriotic American said “no” when called to serve his country? Life at Spirit Airlines might never happened," the letter obtained by FoxNews.com reads.
“We’re happy to look at [letters in support of Meekins]; however, we are standing by our decision not to provide the refund,” Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson told FoxNews.com.
Forbes said his office was fielding calls from outraged veterans in support of Meekins early Tuesday.
“It’s in the spirit of what they should be doing,” Forbes said. “Spirit Airlines should have some honor for veterans. Give him a break, for God’s save. Have a bit of love for your country and for patriotism.”
Picking a fight with Meekins is a bad idea, said Army veteran Mike Saunders, deputy legislative director for The Retired Enlisted Association, which fights to ensure veterans get the health and welfare entitlements promised them.
"As this becomes well-known in the veterans community, there could be a big backlash against Spirit Airlines," said Saunders. "They feel like they gave up a lot, they went and served in Vietnam during their youth, and a little bit compassion on the back end seems only right."
Meekins protested near the airline’s ticket counter at Tampa International Airport last month and was joined by other veterans, including one who voiced the potential of a boycott.
"We've got 3 million Legionnaires, and when you take into account all veterans, you're talking 10 million people,” said Bill Hamlin, commander of American Legion Post 5 in Tampa. “Can Spirit Airlines really afford the negative publicity and the possible boycott of at least 10 million veterans?”
The 180,000-member AMVETS is in the foxhole with Meekins, too.
"AMVETS supports Mr. Meekins, and we view this episode as an opportunity for Spirit Airlines to demonstrate common sense and good corporate citizenship by reviewing its refund policy in light of the circumstances surrounding the request of Meekins, a terminally ill Marine Corps veteran," AMVETS spokesman Jay Agg wrote FoxNews.com in an email.
The airline insists that making an exception would force the cost of providing refunds on to other customers. Pinson noted customers have the option of buying travel insurance, which could help them get their money back, an option Meekins apparently did not choose.
The airline, which has angered consumer groups with its pioneering charges for carry-on baggage and $5 fee for having a boarding pass printed at the airport, claim the no-refunds approach allows the airline to pass savings on to customers.