Kevin Smith Isn't The First Person Southwest Deemed "Too Fat To Fly"

Kevin Smith is so angry he was thrown off a Southwest flight on Saturday, he's launched a campaign against the airline. Smith may be the poster-boy for "too fat to fly", but Southwest has a habit of harassing overweight passengers.

As of this morning, Smith has Tweeted more than 188 times and recorded a SModcast about the incident. According to Smith, he originally booked two seats for a Southwest flight from Oakland to Burbank, then decided to try to fly standby on an earlier flight. There was only one seat available on the earlier flight, but Smith says he explained to a Southwest rep that, "I only needed one seat & that I didn't buy an extra seat because I'm fat (which I am), but because I'm anti-social and didn't want to sit next to someone & possibly have to make convo."

After he was seated on the flight, the rep boarded the plane and told him he'd have to get off because, "Captain Leysath deemed me a 'safety risk.'" According to the airline's "Customer of Size Q&A," for the comfort and safety of other passengers, larger people are required to buy two seats. According to the policy:

The armrest is the definitive gauge for a Customer of size. It serves as the boundary between seats and measures 17 inches in width. Customers who are unable to lower both armrests and/or who compromise any portion of adjacent seating should proactively book the number of seats needed prior to travel.

Smith showed the rep that he was able to put both armrests down and the women seated on either side of him said they were comfortable. However, Smith was still asked to get off and booked on a later flight.

Smith Tweeted that he'd been kicked off the flight and within an hour he added:

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.

A rep for Southwest Tweeted back:

@ThatKevinSmith hey Kevin! I'm so sorry for your experience tonight! Hopefully we can make things right, please follow so we may DM!

The rep later claimed that Smith would be "getting a call at home from our Customer Relations VP tonight." Smith claims they never called, but the airline rep insists they did call the number he used to make the reservation.

At 3pm on Sunday, Southwest posted a statement on the "Nuts About Southwest" blog that read:

... 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... 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.

Smith responded: "So your apology is "Sorry, sir. But you ARE kinda fat..."? I flew out AND back IN ONE SEAT, YOU PIECES OF SHIT!"

The timing of Smith's very public war with Southwest may seem suspicious; his film Cop Out comes out on February 26 and it seems he wants to take his dispute with the airline to a larger audience. He's challenged Southwest to "bring that same row of seats to the DailyShow, and I'll sit in 'em for all to see on TV," but a Southwest rep tells The Wall Street Journal "We most likely will be declining that request." Smith has shot down the theory that he's just looking to publicize his film, saying that he doesn't think, "Hi! I'm the fat-ass, hack-ass, loud-mouth clown who dresses like a 12 yr old & is Too Fat To Fly. Go see COP OUT!" is a great way to market his film.

As for the airline, Smith says he isn't planning to sue Southwest because he doesn't want money, "just want to call attention 2 their policy so large folks think twice before buying." This, of course, isn't the first time the airline has been accused of kicking passengers off flights because a ticket agent decided they looked too fat. As Southwest pointed out in its statement, other airlines have similar policies on passengers who can't fit in the seats, but it seems the airline has a habit of violating its own guidelines on how to determine who is "too wide for the sky":

  • In 2004, Andrea Kysar and Martin McLaughlin, a brother and sister from New Mexico, sued Southwest for humiliation because they were asked to buy an extra seat while flying back from Indianapolis after attending their mother's memorial service, even though they had both flown to Indianapolis in one seat.
  • Also in 2004, Trina Blake sued Southwest after she was questioned about her weight while boarding a Southwest flight. Blake told the Seattle Times that she was, "told that if I even lifted the armrest, I'd be charged for a second ticket at the next airport," even though she'd flown Southwest and other airlines many times and never been asked to buy a second seat.
  • In 2007, Richard Brown was flying to Sacramento, California from Phoenix, Arizona to meet with doctors about getting a liver transplant. Though the flight was not sold out, Brown was told he had to buy another seat because of his size. He told the ticket agent that he had hepatitis-C and was living on disability, so he couldn't afford another ticket, but he still wasn't allowed to board the flight. Later, Southwest apologized.
  • In June 2009, a man named Chip told Consumerist that even though he flew Southwest twice a week for business and no one ever asked him if he needed a second seat, he was stopped by a "gate agent who thought just by looking at me, she could determine whether I was too big to fit in one seat and informed me that I needed to buy a 2nd ticket." He was forced to buy two seats for a flight the next day and wasn't allowed to sit in a seat to prove that he could put the armrests down. Once again, Southwest apologized.
  • In September 2009, Emery Orto, who is more than six feet tall and 350 pounds, was asked by a Southwest employee if he could fit in a seat with the armrests down. He replied, "I've flown many times — it's not a problem," but he was told he couldn't board the plane without being given a chance to prove that he could fit in the seat. A Southwest rep later claimed that he was kept off the plane because he was started arguing with the ticket agent and acting "irrationally" after he was asked if he could fit in the seat.
  • In November 2009, Okamoni Fa, who weighs 400 pounds but says he's never had to buy a second seat on an airline, was kicked off a Southwest flight because he didn't purchase two seats and missed his uncle's funeral.

There were mitigating circumstances in each of these incidents, but shouldn't Southwest have reviewed its policy and given its employees better instructions on how to deal with overweight passengers after the first few apologies? Smith joked on Twitter: "Via @chaseronio "Ur the MLK of fatties" I have a Dream. And two lunches (meatball parm & Trix). And a couple of Twinkies. And a Diet Coke." Unfortunately, if Southwest hasn't fixed the problem by now, even a celebrity campaign may not get the airline to implement a policy that respects all of its customers.

@ThatKevinSmith [Twitter]
Smodcast #106: Go Fuck Yourself, Southwest Airlines [SModcast]
@SouthwestAir [Twitter]
Not So Silent Bob [Nuts About Southwest]
Southwest Airlines Likely Won't Accept Kevin Smith's Challenge To Prove He's Not "2 Fat 2 Fly" [The Wall Street Journal]
Customer Of Size Q&A [Southwest]
Passenger Says Southwest Airlines Humiliated Her [The Seattle Times]
Southwest Nearly Lets Liver Patient Die Because He Wouldn't Buy 2nd Ticket [Consumerist]
New Mexico Siblings Sue Southwest Airlines For Humiliation [USA Today]
A Unfortunate Event [Southwest]
Southwest Suddenly Decides Frequent Flyer Is Too Big To Fly [Consumerist]
Southwest Suddenly Decides Man Is Too Fat To Fly — Again [Consumerist]
Overweight Passenger Denied Boarding On Southwest Flight [ABC News]
Overweight Man Barred From Flight, Misses Uncle's Funeral [Gadling]

Earlier: Kevin Smith Takes To Twitter After Being Thrown Off A Southwest Flight For Being "Too Wide For The Sky"

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