Monday, February 15, 2010

Kevin Smith 'Too Fat' to Fly Southwest? Discrimination or Legitimate Enforcement of a Public Safety Policy?

Via Twitter and/or popular media, I am sure many of you have seen the story regarding Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines. Kevin Smith, a New Jersey native like myself, is well known for comedies such as the 90s favorite- Clerks. This past weekend, Kevin was removed from an Oakland to Burbank, CA flight because he did not fit comfortably into the passenger seat. Kevin has since published multiple tweets documenting the humiliating experience of being kicked off that flight. He argues that Southwest Airlines was wrong in their actions- that he posed no flight/safety risks.
I would argue that even though Kevin Smith is a celebrity (so he can make a louder rebuttal to a larger audience when he feels he is wronged), Southwest Airlines was correctly enforcing a clear and specific public health/safety policy. (A policy that is certainly not unique to this airline- almost all major airlines have a similar policy with similar definitions/actions). The Southwest Travel Policy website clearly lays out FAQs for "Customers of Size" (this term varies a bit airline to airline). The policy clearly defines what it means by Customers of Size (i.e., the armrest is the definitive gauge- if the customer is unable to lower both). It also clearly defines the action that can be taken proactively by customers in this category- they can buy a second seat (this will ensure their comfort and reduce any embarrassment having to deal with this at the airport or on the flight). In an upgrade over many other airlines' policies, customers are offered a refund for the second seat if that flight does not oversell. The website indicates that 98% of extra seat purchases qualify for a refund.
The article highlighted above states that "Smith originally purchased two tickets- as he's been known to do when traveling Southwest, but when he decided to fly standby on an earlier flight, only one seat remained." Since Smith originally purchased two tickets, I would argue that he was very familiar with (1) the Southwest policy on customers of size and (2) his inclusion in that category. Therefore, his cry of discrimination is unfounded and somewhat slanderous. The purpose of these policies is not to embarrass individuals, but instead to protect the health and safety of all individuals on the flight. All customers must have ample opportunity to access plane facilities as well as emergency exits if necessary. Having clear and specific written policies should protect Southwest and their actions...and Kevin Smith should probably lay off his Twitter attack.


  1. Having sat next to a very large man once, I'm glad they made him get on a new flight to get two seats.

    He needs to think about something other than himself. He is going to ruin a flight of one other person if he's overflowing the armrests.

  2. We deal with bariatrics everyday in my healthcare setting. The patients vary from overweight, obese and the super-obese (over 500 pounds). It costs us more $ every day for equipment that will accommodate their size. Bariatrics is an ADA issue and we screen patients on admission for needs - should the airlines screen as well?