By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist
Last week, Spirit Airlines gave the American people an important teachable moment about New Jersey?s motto, ?Liberty and Prosperity.?
Republicans like Assemblymen John Amodeo and Chris Brown of Atlantic County could have used that moment to explain that liberty does not only allow us to enjoy the rewards of the good choices we make, it also means accepting the consequences of our bad choices, and learning from them. Liberty creates wealth and prosperity because it makes people smarter and more responsible. It motivates us to make better choices in the future.
But instead, Amodeo and Brown became useful idiots for the left, and taught Spirit Airlines this far different lesson. Liberty, rules, and contracts now mean nothing in America. What counts is being a celebrity, a victim, and/or a member of some group entitled to special treatment.
Spirit Airlines is one of the few examples of economic success in New Jersey. It began in 1980 with charter flights from Detroit to and from various tourist destinations including Atlantic City. In the early 1990s, it bought some jets, changed its name to Spirit Airlines, and began scheduled airline service. Spirit became a national success by offering the cheapest flights in the country.
It did so with some creative cost-cutting techniques. It avoided expensive big city airports and used Atlantic City as its hub. (Before Republican Gormley and Camden County Democrats took over, Atlantic City Airport had free parking and low landing fees).
Flight attendants worked the ticket counter. No meals were served. Fares were discounted until planes were full. Telephone customer service ? and leg room ? were non-existent. You paid for checked bags. And there was no refund for cancelled flights for any reason, unless you paid $14 extra for flight cancellation insurance.
Locals complained about Spirit. Stand-up comics joked about it. But Spirit planes were full because the complainers and the comics loved the low prices.
Last year, another airline gave me a $300 voucher when it left me stranded overnight at Midway in Chicago. But I never used it because Spirit was always more than $300 cheaper.
In short, Spirit Airlines is a great example of liberty and prosperity at work. If you want meals, personal customer service, and refunds when you change your plans, you are free to fly on a different airline and pay three to four times more. But if you just want reliable service for the lowest price, you book with Spirit and follow their rules.
Liberty gives you the freedom to make your own choices. If you choose Spirit, you save a lot of money on your ticket. But you also take the responsibility of losing money if you?don?t pay the extra $14, and later cancel your flight for any reason, even a good one.
Jerry Meekins, a 76-year-old Florida resident, had been sick with throat cancer for a long time. Last month, he booked a round-trip flight to Atlantic City on Spirit Airlines for $197 to visit his daughter. He could have bought flight-cancellation insurance for $14 more. But he freely chose not to. He could have bought a $600 ticket on another airline that allows cancellations and offers refunds, but he freely chose not to.
Two weeks before the flight, Meekins was told by his doctor that his condition had worsened, and that he should no longer fly. So he demanded a refund of his $197.
Spirit Airlines refused, and released this public statement: ?We receive many requests for refunds every day for similar situations… We will not make customers who follow the rules pay for those who don?t.?
So Meekins made himself a victim ? and a celebrity. He called the liberal daily newspaper and the local TV station and stood in front of the Tampa Airport Terminal with a sign denouncing the ?corporate greed? of Spirit Airlines. He wore his VFW hat to win the sympathy and support of fellow veterans.
The left-wing Huffington Post posted the story on AOL and made Meekins a national hero of the Occupy Wall Street crowd. Then, Republicans like Assemblymen John Amodeo and Chris Brown, piled on. They called for a resolution of the New Jersey Legislature ?condemning Spirit?s maltreatment of veterans and terminally ill patients.? They publicly urged Gov. Christie to intervene.
The media and the politicians won. Spirit Airlines gave the refund and changed its policy. Thousands of customers who change their plans will now get doctor?s notes, and refunds. Everyone will pay higher fares. Liberty and prosperity lost.
(Reprinted from May 9, 2012 Current Newspapers of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, http://www.shorenewstoday.com/snt/news/index.php/politics/24526-spirit-airlines-ticket-flap-a-loss-for-liberty.html)
Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman appears on 92.1FM 8-9 a.m. Saturday. For information see www.libertyandprosperity.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (609) 927-7333. Breakfast discussions are held 9:30-10:30 a.m. every Saturday at the Shore Diner on Fire and Tilton roads in Egg Harbor Township.