Have you been following this story? Spirit Airlines has refused to refund a dying veteran’s $197 ticket after his doctor told him his cancer had progressed to the point where it was not safe for him to fly. Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza had this to say, “A lot of our customers buy that insurance and what Mr. Meekins asked us to do was essentially give him the benefit of that insurance when he didn’t purchase the insurance,” Baldanza said. “Had we done that, I think it really would’ve been cheating all the people who actually bought the insurance … and I think that’s fundamentally unfair.”
Can we all just agree that’s a ridiculous response to this situation? Even if they are going to stick to their policy guns, this is NOT the public statement that should be coming from the CEO. Who is handling the PR for the airline? Whoever it is, is failing miserably. Spirit has become known as one of the worst airlines in terms of customer service and PR. They are also about to start charging up to $100 per bag for carry-on luggage. You read that right – not checked bags, but carry-on bags.
Who actually flies on Spirit Arilines, anyway? I guess some people do because many people have called for a boycott on the airline, and they’ve started a Facebook page calling for action.
Let’s break this down a bit: If Spirit is going to stand by their decision to follow policy, then that’s their choice. However, the first words out of their mouths need to be how terribly sorry they are for Mr. Meekins’ health issues and the truly unfortunate situation that he is facing. That alone would have made them seem human. Showing a little bit of empathy can go a very long way in softening a stance that can be perceived as heartless or rigid. This isn’t an issue of policy or making exceptions. This is an issue of a company going down in PR flames because they are choosing to beat us over the head with the message of what their policy means.
Any company facing any sort of PR issue should remember these key items:
1. Be human.
2. Be flexible.
3. Respond quickly and with kindness.
4. Sensational comments made publicly will be replayed over and over again.
5. One publicized wrongdoing brings to the forefront ALL of your wrongdoings.
6. Remember that you never know the reach or influence a customer may have. (Remember Kevin Smith and the Southwest Airlines debacle?)