Yesterday there was a lot of buzz over the fact that director Kevin Smith was bumped from a fully booked flight on Southwest airlines, allegedly for being overweight. Smith tweeted the news and it quickly led to a media debate about airline regulations and the proper way to deal with larger passengers. I was watching CNN last night and they kept bringing up the story and showing Smith’s goofy Twitpic.
The background is that Smith was accepted as a standby passenger on a full flight on Southwest airlines (which doesn’t assign seating and has only coach-level seats), only to be told that his girth was a safety risk and that he had to leave the plane. Smith once bought two seats on a Southwest flight, but has tweeted that the detail that he does it “regularly” was repeated by the news outlets in an attempt to make it seem like Southwest was right to kick him off the flight. Southwest has since apologized for the way they handled this particular case, but it was more of an apology for letting Smith on the plane in the first place, not for bumping him. They also made it seem like Smith needed two seats, which he didn’t.
Smith isn’t accepting Southwest’s half-assed apology and blogs that he was told by a Southwest employee that he was kicked off because the flight was overbooked and it was an arbitrary decision that wasn’t made because he was too big. That same employee later backed down in a follow-up call and tried to claim that it was over his size. He did fit in his seat with both armrests down and the seatbelt buckled. He even tweeted that the two women on either side of him told the stewardess that it was no problem to sit next to him. Southwest refuses to acknowledge that publicly, though, and Smith is upset about it:
According to Linda, with the melee surrounding boarding and finding a second seat for the other passenger, the Pilot called for a quick settlement of any outstanding issues so that they might take off. And even though I was already planted in my arm-rest lowerable, seat-belt-buckleable seat, I got the hook.
So the Pilot DIDN’T bounce me because I couldn’t fit in the seat. In fact, it sounds like the Pilot had very little to do with bouncing me at all. And Linda said she just found this out today, as they gather info from all involved.
But if that’s the case, then who made that call to yank me? Someone had to actually point a finger and say “Him. He goes.” And not only that, but they then stood behind a fabrication that I was being ejected because I was too fat for my seat.
Regardless, I thanked Linda and told her she was the nicest Southwestern employee I’d met in the last 43 hrs. And then, I asked when Southwest was going to update their blog, to which she said soon, and we hung-up pleasantly. And as pleasant as Linda was, clearly the notion of me going on Larry King scared the shit out of somebody over there.
I was very nice but very firm/clear with Linda: Southwestern needs to make this right. And “right” is Southwestern falling on their sword over a situation THEY CREATED and continued to mismanage for nearly 48hrs.
So I swore to Linda, up and down “Get me a document to sign, and I’ll swear on my child’s life and penalty of all I own that I’ll never sue your Airlines. But just PUT THE F*CKING TRUTH OUT THERE THAT I’M NOT TOO FAT TO FLY, AND THAT THIS WAS ALL AN UNFORTUNATE ERROR ON SOUTHWESTERN’S PART.”
This is the piece Linda wrote.
She called me a little bit ago to see if I’d read the piece. I put her on hold, quickly read it, then got back on the horn.
“Linda – there’s nothing about me not being Too Fat To Fly,” I said.
“The people around you said they had to lean over to make room for you,” Linda offered.
“Linda, they didn’t! The older lady was leaning against the window like she was gonna nap, and the lady to my left was already leaning toward the aisle. I would never pick a seat that might possibly make me look even fatter because I don’t fit in it or something.”
“That’s the report I have,” she continued, then sighed and added “This is so embarrassing to talk about.”
“Wait – what people around me?” I asked.
“The people seated next to you.”
“You guys went to their houses and interviewed them?”
“Then where’d that statement come from?”
“Others people around you.”
“Linda, there was nobody but me, the two ladies, and Suzanne. Are you telling me this is Suzanne’s report?”
“The report we received said the ladies were leaning away from you.”
“They were already leaning when I sat down! They didn’t lean because of me! I even asked them both if I was a problem. But you said you took their statements, and now you’re saying they weren’t interviewed at all. You said we’d get to the bottom of who made the decision to boot me, since it WASN’T the Pilot.”
And Linda apologized and pointed out the blog apologies for putting me on and taking me off the plane, as well as the refunded fares.
“But the last paragraph is still all about your two seat rule. By including it, you guys are still saying I was Too Fat To Fly – or at least NOT correcting it. You even say ‘You’re not here to debate the decision the Employees made.’ But when we spoke, you told me they were wrong, and THAT’S why I was happy and ready to drop all this. I don’t want your money, I just want you to put in print what you told me: that I was grabbed because I was the last guy on, not because I didn’t fit with the arm rests down, or because I couldn’t buckle the seat belt. Because I did. And we both know this.”
I feel like a broken record with that stupid “But I could buckle and fit” sh*t. Pathetic, right? Grasping at any dignity straws. But that’s what you do when you’re kinda stripped of your dignity.
I could hear it in her voice: the sad frustration. Somewhere between the two phone calls, the bounty that was hinted at got a lot smaller. And while the apology is a little deeper now and more sincerely-worded than it was in the initial “apology” blog (thank you, Linda), it still infers that I need two seats to fly on Southwest Airlines.
I begged her to just put the truth in the about me and the seat belt and arm rest – at least admit you guys were wrong: that I wasn’t Too Fat To Fly. And while in phone call #1 it seemed promising, it didn’t happen. There was some standard corp-speak about how they’re going to examine their “Person of Size” policy, and how they know it needs change. I sincerely hope it does. That shit with the Girl on the flight was just heartbreaking and shameful.
But to be honest, I was looking for a little exoneration so I didn’t have to keep exonerating myself. And while Linda was kind and respectful, if they’re gonna stick with this “Well… he needed two seats…” shit, then we’re just back to square one.
You guys screwed up, SWA; why’s it so hard to own up to it? Now I’m gonna carry this Too Fat To Fly shit around like herpes for the rest of my life, and it was never even true.
[From Kevin Smith's blog]
This is typical of airlines and large corporations in general – say you’re “sorry” for the “situation” without admitting you did anything wrong. I’ve only flown on Southwest once, over 10 years ago, and was annoyed by the stupid kind of goofy banter between the stewardesses and the way that everyone was jockeying for seats. I chose never to use them again, although I don’t fly much domestically. I much prefer JetBlue and maybe after that Delta, for the professional way they handle passengers. It sucks to fly no matter what but some airlines are definitely more tolerable than others. When I fly I want to feel like I’m taken care of and like everything is under control, not like I’m having dinner at TGI Fridays. Now that Southwest treated Smith like a second class citizen for being overweight I doubt that I’ll fly with them again, especially considering the way they deflected blame afterwards.