Airline policy hampers charity medical mission


SARASOTA – Volunteers with a Sarasota-based medical mission are planning a trip to the Amazon next month. They want to take medical and construction supplies to help children and people with HIV. But now their work in Peru is in jeopardy.

Eight times a year, doctors, nurses and volunteers with the Hearts Afire group travel the world, bringing their skills and compassion to countries and people who desperately need medical care.

Next month, the group is scheduled to go Peru to help the people in the Amazon. They booked and paid for 19 tickets to Lima, Peru on Spirit Airlines. But the founder of the group says Spirit Airlines suddenly changed its policy on how much baggage is allowed when people travel to Peru. “There’s no mention at all of never being allowed to take on more than one bag, and they suddenly changed their policy,” says Dr. Vilma Vega.

Dr. Vega says the airline changed its policy only allowing one bag after their tickets were booked…and carrying extra baggage is very important to this group. “One piece of luggage is purely taken for the purpose of all donations, medical equipment, construction equipment…anything we need to do our work there.”

Dr. Vega says she has written letters to Spirit Airlines and talked to company representatives, but so far they say there’s nothing they can do. She hopes the company will make an exception so the volunteers can continue their work helping the people of the Amazon.

And others will learn from what they’re going through. “If anything comes out of this, I hope they are able to make it clear on their website so that this doesn’t happen to other medical mission team again.”

On its website, Spirit Airlines does state that only one piece of luggage is allowed per passenger on certain international trips – that includes Lima, Peru, where the volunteers are going.

ABC 7 contacted Spirit Airlines, too. A spokeswoman for the company says while we empathize with the group, we must give all passengers the opportunity to check a bag and are not able to accommodate more than one bag per passenger on this route.