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Southwest vs. Kevin Smith

I haven't seen many post on my LJ Flist talking about the Kevin Smith/Southwest Airlines drama. Here are some of my thoughts:

At about 8:00 CST on Saturday, Kevin Smith started tweeting about his experience on Southwest Airlines.

Dear @SouthwestAir - I know I'm fat, but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?

Dear @SouthwestAir, I flew out in one seat, but right after issuing me a standby ticket, Oakland Southwest attendant Suzanne (wouldn't give

last name) told me Captain Leysath deemed me a "safety risk". Again: I'm way fat... But I'm not THERE just yet. But if I am, why wait til my

bag is up, and I'm seated WITH ARM RESTS DOWN. In front of a packed plane with a bunch of folks who'd already I.d.ed me as "Silent Bob."

So, @SouthwestAir, go fuck yourself. I broke no regulation, offered no "safety risk" (what, was I gonna roll on a fellow passenger?). I was

wrongly ejected from the flight (even Suzanne eventually agreed). And fuck your apologetic $100 voucher, @SouthwestAir. Thank God I don't

embarrass easily (bless you, JERSEY GIRL training). But I don't sulk off either: so everyday, some new fuck-you Tweets for @SouthwestAir.

That was just the start. He put up a special episode of SModcast talking about his experience.
Southwest Airlines responded with an "apology" which wasn't actually apologetic. Kevin also had many tweets about his experience.

Now, I'm not a frequent flier. My total flights since January 2001 are 1 round-trip MSP-PHX*, 1 one-way PHX-MSP, 2 round-trip MSP-LAX, 2 round-trip MSP-LAS, 1 one-way MSP-LAS, 1 one-way BUR-MSP, and one round-trip MSP-MDW. If you count a round trip as 2 flights, that is 15 flights. It is an average of less than one round-trip per year.

Our biggest reason for not flying more often is financial, pure & simple. When planning a vacation we can usually just afford to fly if we are staying with friends. Rick & I have never paid over $1000 for a vacation for the two of us. We have rarely paid over $500. We just don't have the extra money to spend.

Because Southwest Air just recently started flying out of MSP just over a year ago, our trip to Chicago was the first time Rick & I were able to fly SWA and we were very pleased with the airline and our experience with them.

I was hoping to be able to fly SWA for my trip down to Phoenix this May.

Now I'm afraid that by flying w/SWA I'm just spinning the roulette wheel and hoping it doesn't land on public humiliation.

I've read many of the responses on the SWA blog. Not all of them, they are at 25 pages and counting! There are plenty of pro-SWA comments and plenty of pro-Kevin Smith comments. I also read the comments on the SModcast page. Not surprisingly most of those were taking Kevin's side. As I've been reading I've been dismayed to see how many people link to different stories about the tactless ways SWA enforces their "Customer of Size" policy, which was instituted more than 25 years ago.

Rick & I are not skinny people, but we are fully able to put the arm rests down. The majority of our discomfort on flight stems from the fact that I am 5'10" and he is 6'6". We will never be comfortable on an airplane regardless of seat width because of this. But as I read more & more people's stories of how they (or their friends or family) were treated by SWA I am beginning to think that I can never comfortably fly with them. And I'm not talking about the ridiculous seat size here. I'm talking about the fact that a person can be a regular passenger on SWA and then one gate attendant who thinks you are too fat can pull you aside and single you out without any regard as to whether or not you do fit in the seat w/the arm rests down.

I can fit my fat ass in the seat, put both arm rests down, and fasten my seatbelt. But on any given flight I may be told before boarding that I look too fat and if I want to get on the plane I will need to buy a second seat. I would love the luxury of buying an extra seat to keep empty between us for both the comfort of the extra legroom, as well as to not be squished up next to someone who is loud, smelly, or otherwise annoying. If I had that kind of financial freedom, I would probably also be flying more often than an average of one round-trip every 14.5 months.

I'm not going to write off SWA entirely. If they have a sale where the cost of Rick & I buying 3 seats is less then buying 2 seats on another airline I will fly them. Heck, if the flight's not full we'd even get a refund for that extra seat. But now that I know that my money isn't as good as the money of a skinny person they certainly won't be my first choice.

Kevin may be the loudest person they've used their arbitrary judgements on, but he's certainly not the only one. If the same thing had happened to me I don't know if I would have been angry enough to Twitter about it, or if instead I would have been so shamed by it that I'd stay silent. I like to think it would be the first, but my 39 years of low self esteem make the second option the more likely one. Do I even want to give SWA the chance to treat me like shit? I already have enough times that I look at my fat self with self-loathing, I don't need someone else calling me out in public to do it too.

I'm guessing SWA isn't the only airline "Customers of Size" have had problems with. Maybe there isn't any airline I can fly on without worrying. I don't know. What I do know is that even though I am fat and out of shape I am still human. I hope I can find an airline that will treat me as one.

LAX=Los Angeles
LAS=Las Vegas
MDW=Chicago Midway



( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 16th, 2010 09:16 am (UTC)
At 5 ft 2 I have trouble with leg room, I can't imagine how you guys cope.

Looking at Kevin Smith, I am stunned. He's not even that big for god's sake. I tell you what, if I was treated like that I'd be twittering and blogging like crazy about it.
Feb. 16th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I hope I wouldn't feel too humiliated to post about it. I only have 434 Twitter followers, but a lot of them have MANY more followers than me (including a certain Boss with 1.4).
If a passenger isn't supposed to have another passenger encroach on their space from side to side how can they justify letting the jackass in front of you bash your knees in? I've sat in airline seats both upright and reclined. There's not that much of a difference! The amount of comfort you get reclining a little certainly isn't equal to or greater than the amount of discomfort the person behind you gets. Because of that I will never recline unless it is a small child behind me.
Feb. 16th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
Its not even so much the number of followers for we mere mortals, but the reach..for instance, you tweet something bad about A's services, I retweet it and it is seen by one of my friends who is a travel writer - whoosh, its gone totally global.
Feb. 17th, 2010 12:24 am (UTC)
Yeah, isn't the internet & social media awesome! :)
Feb. 16th, 2010 12:24 pm (UTC)
That apology from SWA is such a joke. "We're very, very sorry we offended you by enforcing a rule we've had on the books and not attempted to remove for over two decades."
Feb. 16th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, no shit! And not just a rule that's been there for over 25 years, but one that was put in place when seats were wider and people were thinner! Way to change with the times, SWA. Would they enforce a no black people rule just because they'd had it on the books for decades? "I'm sorry, but we decided 60 years ago that we don't want black people on our plane and our rules don't change with the times."
Feb. 16th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC)
Most every airline treats its customers like shit. When I fly I'm resigned to the fact that I will be fucked with in some way and then I can be pleasantly surprised if I'm not.
Feb. 16th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the airlines certainly aren't known for their customer service. We were thrilled when SWA came to Mpls because we'd heard how awesome they were. We loved having another choice that wasn't NorthWorst.
But after all the stories I've read the last couple days, not just Kevin Smith's, I'm not sure I'd be welcome on a SWA flight. Depending on fares and if both Rick & I were going, I'd consider it if buying 3 SWA seats was comparable in price to 2 seats on another airline. But hell, if I could afford it I'd buy an extra seat for every flight for the same reason Kevin did: I don't want to be squished up against some stranger.
Feb. 16th, 2010 03:30 pm (UTC)
This story is mainly the reason for my I Hate to Fly post the other day. The entire flying experience has denigrated so far I cringe at even the thought of another plane trip. I'm pretty sure most airlines have the same crappy policies and enforcement, but SWA just picked the wrong guy to piss off.

Maybe he'll turn out to be the leader of us extra-large people uprising against all airlines?
Feb. 16th, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I figured it was probably the inspiration. I was going to do my post sooner, but I wanted to listen to the SModcast, and read all the comments first. Then I realized how long it would take to read *all* the comments!
They certainly picked the wrong guy to mess with. He's loud AND has over a million people listening.
Feb. 16th, 2010 04:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting about this. I'm 6'2" and 320 lbs and my biggest problem is the width of my shoulders - my frame just isn't made to fit into a coach seat - and I can't afford to fly first class.

I followed your link to the SW Airlines blog and their "apology" and read through some of the comments left by the people on their blog.

Stuff like this makes me want, more and more, to just travel by train. At least then I get leg room, can get up and walk around, see the countryside, etc.
Feb. 16th, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. :)
I know I don't look at you and think "Gosh, that guy is too fat to fly." It's just not true, and yet the airline's tiny seats are too small for you. Shame on you for being a normal human! Is anyone other than a child or an anorexic midget comfortable on an airplane?
I've always wished train travel was more of an option here in the US. Every time I'm planning a trip and I look into the possibility of traveling by train there are so many connections and it ends up being more expensive for a trip that takes much longer. At that point I might as well drive!
Feb. 16th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC)
Trains - "it ends up being more expensive for a trip that takes much longer."

Yep. Plus, the one time I did travel by train, it had problems and they dumped us off in a seriously scary area at night. Two days later - we were able to get back on the train. And we had to pay for the nights at a hotel ourselves.
Feb. 16th, 2010 07:47 pm (UTC)
Just to see, I checked on what traveling to AZ by train would be like. 67 hours, including a 23 hour layover in Chicago, and a half mile hike through Flagstaff in the dark, and a 2:30 arrival in Phoenix. Yeah, not gonna happen!
Feb. 16th, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC)
I'm glad Kevin's being vocal. I think it's awful to tell him he's too fat to fly, especially since he flew the first leg just fine. I think that the airlines are hoping people are shamed into silence so that nobody finds out how badly they treat people. I hope people don't let that happen, that they talk. A lot.

Train travel is fantastic, if the trains go where you want to go, which is of course the downside. Limited availability.
Feb. 16th, 2010 07:50 pm (UTC)
Did you listen to the SModcast? On the flight he did end up on (belted in with both armrests down!) they humiliated the big girl sitting in the same row as him.
Feb. 16th, 2010 10:07 pm (UTC)
I didn't listen to it but that's awful. It means they make a habit of harassing people.
Feb. 16th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
That is really annoying and frustrating and scary. I hope SWA is revisiting their policy. I mean, I can kinda understand for a small plane, but not a normal jet.
Feb. 16th, 2010 08:07 pm (UTC)
Yeah, if you cram people together like that, no one is going to be comfortable. Personally I think I would be ok paying up to half again as much if I knew I was going to be getting a seat that was 8 inches wider (25 instead of 17). At that size you would have 2 seats where there used to be 3, but they'd still get the same amount of fare. If they did have larger seats and gave you that option when you purchased, people would be more comfortable, they wouldn't have to pay double fare, and a full plane would bring in the same amount of revenue with less fuel costs (lighter plane)
Feb. 16th, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)
The scary part of the "Customers of Size" policy to me was:

Why can’t a large Customer sit with a family member who doesn’t mind being encroached upon or a small child/person who doesn’t take a full seat?
Open seating cannot guarantee that two people will be able to sit together. In addition, we must treat the smaller person (despite willingness or personal relationship) as a valued Customer who deserves the use of a full seat. Most importantly, we have to consider the safety aspect of the family member whose movement (especially in the event of an emergency) could be compromised if encroached on by a large seatmate.

Does that mean that they can't guarantee that my child will sit next to me??? My 5 year old? Really? I'm sorry, but that is just unacceptable. And I should *not* have to buy an extra seat if I'm sitting next to my child who only takes up half a seat. Seriously.
Feb. 17th, 2010 12:35 am (UTC)
Yup. Theoretically if when you board a SWA plane if there are not two seats together the only way you will sit next to your child is if someone voluntarily moves to a different seat to allow you to have the two together. And no one is required to do that. Of course, no one in their right mind is going to decide that they want to sit beside someone else's 5 year old who isn't by it's mother. But it is possible. If you buy the "I have a fat ass" seat you will get to board first to ensure that you have your two seats together.

The line "we have to consider the safety aspect of the family member whose movement (especially in the event of an emergency) could be compromised if encroached on by a large seatmate." is bullshit when talking about a 5 year old kid. That kid isn't going to know what to do in an emergency without their parent. And you can't tell me it's more dangerous in an emergency for a child to be sitting by their fat parent than by skinny frail 90-yr old grandma who can't walk!

( 21 comments — Leave a comment )



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