Spirit Airlines makes Denver debut amid bad PR over boycott, baggage fees

Beginning at 9:45 a.m., Spirit Airlines will celebrate its return to Denver International Airport with a slew of events, including the first landing of a flight from the discount carrier in eight years.

But something else is arriving along with this Las Vegas-to-Denver junket -- terrible publicity related to call for veterans to boycott Spirit, as well as word of a $100 per carry-on bag fee.

Over the past week or so, Fox News has closely covered the story of Jerry Meekins, a Vietnam War veteran who asked Spirit for a $197 refund after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and being forbidden to fly -- a request that the airline turned down flat.

Spirit has a blanket no-refunds policy unless a potential passenger "pays extra for insurance that enables them to apply for refunds," according to Fox News. And because Meekins didn't do so, he was out of luck.

Meekins's tale was spread in part by the Boycott Spirit Airlines Facebook page, which was launched before the refund rejection but is now largely devoted to his plight. Here are some sample comments on a recent post:

Well now we know what the spirit of Spirit Airlines is: no compassion. I'd be glad to help chip in and do for this vet what the airline refused to do.

Hope you become bankrupt Spirit. Compassion and customer service, something you fools are truly lacking.

Screw Spirit Airlines. I will gladly NEVER give them one dime. Blessings to this vet and his family.

The response from Spirit is a simple "no". Count me among those with the same simple answer to them when it comes to flying. Heck no to flying on Spirit!

As the anger over this situation continued to build, Spirit risked more ire by announcing its new carry-on baggage policy. At present, the Detroit Free Press notes, the carrier charges $45 for any bag placed in a plane's overhead compartment. But beginning on November 6, that fee will be upped to $100 -- an amount intended to inspire more people to check their bags and make their flying arrangements online prior to arrival at an airport, according to the paper.

The jack-up isn't unique; Allegiant is also taking this tack. But Spirit is increasing charges in other areas as well. Here's the Freep list:

• $50 for a carry-on checked at the counter or kiosk, up from $40, and $35 for a carry-on paid for while booking, up from $30.

• $40 for a carry-on paid for during online check-in, up from $35, and $40 for a carry-on paid for using the reservation center, up from $35.

• $8-$10 more for oversized luggage checked at the airport.

Expect questions on these topics to come up today at DIA, where Spirit is launching nonstop service between Denver and the airline's four largest bases of operation: Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale and Las Vegas. There'll also by connections available to thirty more cities in the U.S. plus the Caribbean and Latin America.

The press has been invited to a photo op from the ramp of that first flight, and DIA manager Kim Day is expected to be on hand for interviews that will undoubtedly tout Spirit's return to Denver. But the comeback is not without baggage -- the expensive kind.

Look below to see a Fox News interview with Meekins.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts