Social media backfire?

February 15, 2010 · 3 comments

Over the weekend, there was a lot of talk on the twitters and on the interwebz about Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines.  He was pulled off of a plane, after he had been seated and put his luggage away, for ‘safety reasons’. In other words, they told him he was too fat for the flight (of course, they never used the word fat, but when you start talking about safety and comfort of other passengers? Pretty clear meaning).  Which, in his words, he would totally understand if he couldn’t buckle his seatbelt or put the armrests down, but he could.  And the ladies on either side of him in the row? Had no problem with his size.

They indicated that the pilot, whom Smith never saw, was the one who told him to get off the plane.  Then, they booked him on ANOTHER flight. So, too fat for one flight, but not for another, simply because of the fullness of the plane (which apparently had empty seats). While Kevin was admittedly dismayed and embarrassed, he claims to have been willing to let it go until his second flight.

The larger sized woman who was sitting in his aisle (he had 2 tickets, as he usually does because, in his words, he “doesn’t like people and can afford it”) was pulled off the plane and told that she should consider buying a second seat. There was an empty seat between them, on a non-full flight, and they felt it was appropriate to pull this woman aside to tell her to buy an additional ticket.  THAT ? Is just absurd.  They knew full well that there was an empty seat next to her, that had already been paid for, and yet making sure they got their point across was more important than that poor woman’s feelings.  Making the woman feel bad about being larger is not good customer service in any way, shape or form.

It doesn’t matter WHO he is. It doesn’t matter if Southwest did what their policy says they are supposed to, or if they really did do it because of his weight and it was truly a safety issue.  What matters, in this world of social media and instantaneous information, is that the problems are taken care of swiftly and effectively. I’m not sure Southwest stepped up to the plate in this case.

In this case, Kevin’s first response was to use Twitter to convey his shock and anger.  Southwest, having their own Twitter account, did respond to him a number of times and later posted an “apology” on their website/blog.

That apology, however, was not much of an apology. In fact, I found it to be less than an apology and more of a statement of “yes, we took him off the flight because he’s fat and we wanted to. It’s our policy, so there you go.”  Which, really? Not the best way to retain or gain customers.  This part, especially the underlined, specifically bothered me:

    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.

The underlined area is where the problem comes…he can lower the armrests and not infringe. So where exactly is the justification?

I know there are 2 sides to every story, and having heard Smith’s SModcast (for 1.5hrs) and reading the blog (apology)and tweets from Southwest, I think I have a fairly decent view of both sides.  I’m not sure what will happen with this. Will it become a bigger issue? Will there be lawsuits from people about weightism? Will they really apologize and make this right, not only for Kevin, but for all of the people they’ve treated similarly? Will they simply continue on, business as usual, hoping for this to blow over?

With Twitter and Facebook becoming the new norm of customer service, it’s interesting to watch how this plays out.  Is Kevin Smith the first person to be pulled from a Southwest flight? Obviously not.  Nor will he probably be the last.  One can only hope that Southwest (and other companies) take this to be the learning experience that it should be. They’ve lost at least one customer; I have to wonder how they’re going to keep the rest.

{By the way, for a fun satirical post about the whole thing, go HERE}


From tonight’s twitter stream (squished together for your convenience)

Look folks: some people seem to think that because I work in the pictures, I should piss away money on private jets or first class flights.

Rest assured: I take LOTS of first class flights. But while I’ve got some comfortable money, it’d disappear quick if I didn’t respect a $.

So for quick, 1hr flights to Vegas or SF from LA, I never minded @SouthwestAir. Never had a problem with them before, either.

But contrary to their claim that I regularly purchase two seats, I wasn’t a regular 2-seat buyer until just this week. They SEIZED on that.

In their “apology” blog, they implied (or flat-out wrote) that I regularly purchase 2 seats. Writing that buttresses their lie: 2 Fat 2 Fly.

But, by their own guidelines, I was not, in fact, 2 Fat 2 Fly: the arm rests went down & I could buckle my seat belt w/o an extender. So…?

{From his twitter stream from Sunday night}

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] February 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm

VERY well put together. You describe both sides without bias.

(and thanks for the shout-out!)
.-= Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing]´s last [bit of blogging genius] ..Kevin Smith vs. The Southwest Airlines Twitter Rep: A Love Story =-.


jen February 16, 2010 at 11:53 pm

look how thinky you are being about this. i love it. and no matter what happens, KS is giving those guys hell, and you kind of have to love him for that.
.-= jen´s last [bit of blogging genius] ..see saw =-.


Kelly February 18, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Yeah, that really doesn’t seem quite fair to me, and doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. I am referring to the whole idea of too fat for one flight, but not another, how strange. This sort of reminds me of the whole debate about whether an extremely obese person should have to pay for two tickets on a greyhound bus, for example. You all remember that whole debate?
.-= Kelly´s last [bit of blogging genius] ..How to Take Action Photography =-.


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