Too Fat to Fly (Southwest)

In one of the crazier things that have happened this week, Kevin Smith was kicked off a Southwest flight last weekend because he was determined to be a “person of size.” He stated that he complied with their guidelines, and was still asked to leave the plane.

Here’s his take Smodcast Final Words, and it’s definitely worth watching. You may also want to listen to SMODCast 107, where Mr. Smith talks to Natali, a young woman who was on his return flight that had an incident with Southwest over this policy.

If you look on Southwest’s website, buried under the customer service section is a single link that describes their person of size policy.

According to their Customer of Size FAQ, it’s not “just about weight.” Of course, I’m not sure if this document has been recently updated after everything that went on with Mr. Smith this week, but it seems like it’s a recent update since it goes to great lengths to cover their policy.

The problem, though, is that the policy says that the definitive guide is whether or not the person can fit between the armrests of the seat. Mr. Smith states that he had no trouble putting down the armrests, and that in spite of that, he was asked to deplane.

Neither the policy NOR the FAQ state anything that outside of the “definitive guide” that any Southwest employee can make a judgement call on who is a “customer of size.”

Why should I care? Well, I may not be as large as Mr. Smith (in my opinion), but I am a fat person. I don’t have any trouble fitting in seats on any airline, but this incident has me concerned about flying Southwest.

I know, the skinny folks are just saying – Oh, just lose some weight fat-ass, and the problem is solved. Mr. Smith got a LOT of that type of feedback to his twitters about the incident.

But here’s the thing. Yeah, it’s not that easy to lose weight. BUT, let’s suppose I did lose the weight and got down to 200 pounds. I am still a 6′ man, and I’m broad shouldered. If I end up on a row with another broad-shouldered person, wouldn’t I be considered a “customer of size” as well, regardless of how I fit between the armrests?

What if I’m 6’6″ tall and only weigh 180 pounds, but I’m crammed into the seat like a sardine? What if I’m Shaquille O’Neal? Would he have to buy an entire row? (Not that Shaq would ever fly Southwest, but there are people who are tall AND large but don’t play in the NBA.)

Oh FYI, if you look down on the FAQ, apparently, yes, broad-shouldered would mean I would have to buy another ticket.

The annoying part of this is that Southwest isn’t apologizing at all. The simplest thing would have been for them to say – look, we’re sorry. We really mishandled the situation with Mr. Smith, and we’ll make sure that our policy has clear standards, and that said policies are clearly stated on our site, and employees are better informed, etc.

Instead, they’re trying to spin it and make Mr. Smith look like the bad guy in all of this.

There has to be a better approach, too, than waiting until the person or persons are already seated on the plane before you approach them. The worst thing they could do would be to stick a seat next to the little wire stand where customers can check if their carry-on baggage is too big with a sign on it that says “If your ASS doesn’t fit, then you must buy another ticket!”

As much as this situation has made life miserable for Mr. Smith this week, it’s probably a good think this has gotten the attention it has. If it had been myself or any other average person, Southwest would have completely ignored us.

And yes, Southwest is perfectly within their right as a company to discriminate against fat people. I’m not saying they can’t. In my mind, though, if 2/3 of Americans are overweight, and I’m in the business of transporting people, then I might think about refitting the seats on my planes. Just saying.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that 2/3 of American adults are overweight. Yes, it is a problem, and yes, it should be addressed.

In the meantime, though, if you’re overweight, you may want to think twice about flying Southwest. If you can afford two tickets, then you can at least save yourself the embarrassment of being asked to get off a plane.

Because, at Southwest, your bags fly free. Fatties cost extra.

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