I debated whether or not to write about this, but since it has consumed my Twitter Life for the last couple days, I feel the need to expel these thoughts from my brain. The following will be a story and my own thoughts about how Southwest Airlines treated an overweight woman and director Kevin Smith, a friend to comic book and video game loving geeks everywhere.
Short story first: Kevin Smith (aka Silent Bob) was removed from a Southwest flight after his bags were stowed and he was seated, as he was deemed a safety risk/comfort risk to those around him, after passing the armrest test. In the other Southwest flight he took home, the overweight woman in his row was pulled aside after she was seated and chastised for not buying two tickets, as she could possibly infringe the comfort of others.
Listen to Smith’s Smodcast (#106) for the whole story, since I’m going to condense here. I listened to the whole thing (it was an hour and a half, if I remember correctly) and he did a very good job at staying objective about the whole situation.
All right, have some background. Southwest is a cheap, “economical,” airline and a lot of people traveling from California to Nevada take it, since it’s faster then driving and pretty convenient. Because of this, Smith sometimes likes to buy two tickets, so he doesn’t have to sit by anyone, not because he’s fat. (He is fat, he’ll say that about himself, but he isn’t Too Fat To Fly.)
He’s at the airport early and wants to take an earlier flight home, something he often does with Southwest, and they tell him he can. The woman at the counter pulls up the flight and informs him that there is only one seat available, not two—since he has two tickets in his name—and he says he doesn’t care, he wants to get home. He has to explain to her it’s because he is antisocial that he bought two tickets, not because he’s fat, or “safety risk.” Things go somewhat smoothly and he’s on the flight in the front, seated between two older women.
A few minutes before the flight was scheduled to take off an airline attendant told him the Captain said he was a safety risk. “What kind of safety risk,” he asks. They play Ring Around the Wordsy for a few minutes before it dawns on him that they think he’s too fat for the flight. He passes their armrest test (both must be down) and the two ladies beside him say they are comfortable. It doesn’t matter, he still gets taken off the flight. He talks to a few people about the decision outside in the terminal and Suzanne, the main airline employee in this debacle, is getting defensive. Fast forward a little, Smith gets on another flight home, with his two seats, and they make him board first, even though he doesn’t want to. He buckles his seatbelt without an extender, he puts his arm rests down with no trouble. (Two things that make him Not Too Fat To Fly.)
This is the flight where the overweight woman sits in the end of his row. There’s an empty seat between them. Remember that. She sits, they exchange pleasantries, they go about their own business. Enter female attendant. She takes this woman aside and they speak for a few minutes, she sits down again. Smith and this woman talk later, and he asks what the female attendant talked to her about.
Here it is: She should have strongly considered buying two tickets so others around her would have been more comfortable. Never mind that there was an empty seat between Smith and this woman.
This really enrages me. How dare that airline employee take it upon herself to chastise a paying customer over something that didn’t even matter. Southwest has had a size policy for about 25 years now, which I’m not against. It’s not altogether a good policy, though.
Blogs, news sites and gossip sites have picked this up, since it’s about Kevin Smith, and he’s kinda famous. A few sites report that Smith routinely buys two tickets for himself. That is wrong, Smith himself said in the Smodcast, on twitter and in his online diary that it was something he did occasionally because he could afford to do it. (I reiterate: Southwest is cheap!) Southwest is claiming that he usually does it, which is right if they only look at the past couple weeks of his account, not all of it.
The whole story started on @ThatKevinSmith. You can go read it all, as it happened, and listen to the Smodcast. He also posted it about on his website. I’m part of the group that believes Smith is in the right for lambasting Southwest about this, and that he isn’t whining. The whole thing is a pretty serious customer service boo boo and shows that Southwest sort of hates fat people.
In the end there was a half-assed apology put forth by Southwest. Read all about it here, if you want to.