Former Republican Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, is not exactly an Occupy Wall Street kind of guy.

If you talked to the honorable governor, he would certainly declare his unfettered support for capitalism and free-and-fair global markets.

So it is tad notable to hear the governor on his syndicated radio show Wednesday morning blasting (putting it mildly) Spirit Airlines for being ruthless, resolute and stubborn over a measly $197, and causing literally millions of dollars of damage to the 48-year-old airline’s reputation and brand.

If you have not already heard this pathetic story, a 76-year-old ex-Vietnam War Marine, Jerry Meekins, paid $197 for a roundtrip ticket from Clearwater, Florida to Atlantic City, NJ to see his daughter after her surgery. Meekins’ cardinal sin was that he did not purchase trip insurance.


Two weeks later, Meekins’ found out that he has terminal esophageal cancer and his doctor ordered him not to fly. He asked for a refund from Spirit. No dice. Non-refundable tickets are non-refundable tickets. The Spirit lawyers did not want to set a “dangerous precedent” by allowing a terminally ill vet with a bonafied doctor’s note from being refunded the gigantic sum of $197.

In “defense” of Spirit Airlines, they offered him a $197 credit for a future flight.

Hello Spirit Airlines. Is anyone home?

The man is dying. He has no future. His oncologist told him that he can’t fly…and you are offering him a $197 future flight credit?

They also promised a “partial” refund, if he passed before or during the flight. What will a deceased person do with his or her partial refund? I am not making this up.

Checking out Spirit’s website (NASDAQ: SAVE), we learned just yesterday that the airline earned $23.8 million in the first quarter, causing the stock to advance nearly 5 percent to $24.11 in today’s trading. And the airline that makes a nearly $24 million quarterly profit can’t refund $197 (a rounding error) to a dying man, who served his country?

Meekins was a guest on “Fox & Friends” Wednesday morning complete with on-air graphics: “Mean Spirit’ed,” “Spiritually Inept” and “A Plane Shame.” Veterans have organized a “Boycott Spirit Airlines” Facebook page with nearly 20,000 “likes” and counting. Spirit’s brand and reputation are being permanently mauled in cyberspace and conventional media right before our very eyes, even prompting Governor Huckabee to implore the company to practice some basic public relations.

Meekins even suggested this morning on national television that Spirit should take appeals to its non-refundable ticket policy on a case-by-case basis. Seems like the ex-Marine has more public relations sense than the Miramar, Florida airline.

What has happened is that Spirit Airlines for being so obstinate and doctrinaire has generated a self-inflicted crisis communications drill. If the airline’s chief executive officer, Ben Baldanza, will not overrule his flat-earth lawyers, then Misty Pinson, the airline’s director of Corporate Communications needs to resign sending yet another message to management, and at the same time protecting her own reputation and brand. Remember: the most important public relations are personal public relations.

Dropping the hydrogen bomb on an employer should only be used in extreme cases, particularly in our long-term depressed economy. I opine that this incredible caper constitutes an extreme case. By staying, Ms. Pinson runs the risk of being permanently labeled in the PR Community as being the overseer of the Spirit Airlines PR debacle.


There is a growing trend for perspective employers to ask job candidates if there was ever a time that she or he considered resigning from a job because of moral or ethical concerns. This is a tricky question and it was posed to me.

I responded in the affirmative because it was the truth. My employer for 10 years was about to lay off 600 employees on September 12, 2001. As we all know, something very significant occurred on September 11, 2001. I wrote about this close call in Almost DailyBrett’s “Going to the Mat?” Fortunately, our management made the correct decision and postponed the 8 percent Reduction in Force (RIF) for a week. Whew.

There are times when the lawyers dig in their heels, arguing legal perfection to management. Sometimes these evil spirits win the battle, while a company’s reputation and brand lose the PR war.

Thursday update: Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza dismissed as “irrelevant” statistics showing that Spirit has the highest rate of customer complaints, and blamed cancer victim Jerry Meekins for not buying insurance. Meanwhile, the number of “likes” on the Boycott Spirit Airlines Facebook page now exceeds 26,000. The number of “likes” was 700 just 48 hours ago.