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.