High profile movie dude + Twitter + arbitrarily applied and embarrassing policy = PR nightmare for Southwest Airlines.
Portly pepperpot Kevin Smith, genius behind the Clerks films and prolific internet user, did the Twitter rant proud last night when he was booted from a Southwest Airlines flight from Oakland to Burbank for being too chubby. Smith relates that he was comfortably in his (single) seat, armrests down and ready to fly when he was approached by staff of Southwest Airlines and removed from the flight. While Smith certainly isn’t svelte- he ain’t “rhino in the aisle seat” fat either. C’mon, Southwest, really?
While Smith could have been any fatty, anywhere, Southwest happened to pick on a big dude with a bigger Twitter following. Unlike many who have been subjected to the policy Smith refers to as “sizeist,” Smith didn’t shuffle off the flight in quiet, red faced shame- he give his 1.6 million Twitter followers a play by play- go, Kevin!
The wind up:
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?
The pitch (condensed from a few tweets):
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.”
Smith wasn’t even afraid to throw his own work under the bus to make a point:
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.
Smith sent out a bat-phone warning to other Fat-Americans as well:
Wanna tell me I’m too wide for the sky? Totally cool. But fair warning, folks: IF YOU LOOK LIKE ME, YOU MAY BE EJECTED FROM @SOUTHWESTAIR.
He also told Southwest they “f*cked with the wrong sedentary processed-foods eater,” and pointed out the inconsistency in policy:
(1/2) @pigz “I know several people bigger then u who have flown on other airlines” I saw someone bigger than me on THAT flight! But I wasn’t (2/2) about to throw a fellow Fatty under the plane as I’m being profiled. But he & I made eye contact, & he was like “Please don’t tell…”
Kevin Smith, our doughy Sir Lancelot. The ranting continued, and you can get the full anti-Southwest tirade on Smith’s Twitter feed, ThatKevinSmith. The angry tweeting continued, even after Smith landed on a later Southwest flight:
The @SouthwestAir Diet. How it works: you’re publicly shamed into a slimmer figure. Crying the weight right off has never been easier!
Hey @SouthwestAir! I’ve landed in Burbank. Don’t worry: wall of the plane was opened & I was airlifted out while Richard Simmons supervised.
Later tweets point out that Southwest’s later hand-wringing on Twitter seemed largely due to Smith’s celebrity pull and not his shoddy treatment at the hands of cabin crew. Southwest’s rep on their official Twitter feed replied several times about the incident, and posted about it today on their blog. However, one wonders if it was just Joe Twitteruser who’d been subject to the same public shaming, would the airline have responded as quickly? Certainly not as publicly, but would they have been as concerned?
Update: Southwest’s blog is finally somewhat accessible- full text of the public apology to Kevin Smith, below:
Many of you reached out to us via Twitter last night and today regarding a situation a Customer Twittered about that occurred on a Southwest flight. It is not our customary method of Customer Relations to be so public in how we work through these situations, but with so many people involved in the occurrence, you also should be involved in the solution. First and foremost, to Mr. Smith; we would like to echo our Tweets and again offer our heartfelt apologies to you. We are sincerely sorry for your travel experience on Southwest Airlines.
As soon as we saw the first Tweet from Mr. Smith, we contacted him personally to apologize for his experience and to address his concerns on both Twitter and with a personal phone call. Since the situation has received a lot of public attention, we’d like to take the opportunity to address a few of the specifics here as well.
Mr. Smith originally purchased two Southwest seats on a flight from Oakland to Burbank – as he’s been known to do when traveling on Southwest. He decided to change his plans and board an earlier flight to Burbank, which technically means flying standby. As you may know, airlines are not able to clear standby passengers until all Customers are boarded. When the time came to board Mr. Smith, we had only a single seat available for him to occupy. Our pilots are responsible for the Safety and comfort of all Customers on the aircraft and therefore, made the determination that Mr. Smith needed more than one seat to complete his flight. Our Employees explained why the decision was made, accommodated Mr. Smith on a later flight, and issued him a $100 Southwest travel voucher for his inconvenience.
You’ve read about these situations before. Southwest instituted our Customer of Size policy more than 25 years ago. The policy requires passengers that can not fit safely and comfortably in one seat to purchase an additional seat while traveling. This policy is not unique to Southwest Airlines and it is not a revenue generator. Most, if not all, carriers have similar policies, but unique to Southwest is the refunding of the second seat purchased (if the flight does not oversell) which is greater than any revenue made (full policy can be found here). The spirit of this policy is based solely on Customer comfort and Safety. As a Company committed to serving our Customers in Safety and comfort, we feel the definitive boundary between seats is the armrest. If a Customer cannot comfortably lower the armrest and infringes on a portion of another seat, a Customer seated adjacent would be very uncomfortable and a timely exit from the aircraft in the event of an emergency might be compromised if we allow a cramped, restricted seating arrangement.
[Image from @ThatKevinSmith, caption: Hey @SouthwestAir! Look how fat I am on your plane! Quick! Throw me off!]