Photo Credit: Bryan Stablyk
Southwest Airlines certainly has their issues:
They’re sexist. Remember when 23-year-old Hooters waitress Kyla Ebber was asked by a customer service rep to change her clothes and then forced to cover her legs with a blanket?
They’re sizeist. Earlier this year, director Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Clerks, Zack and Miri Make a Porno) launched a full-scale Tweet tweakout when Southwest kicked him off an Oakland-to-Burbank flight because he was "too wide for the sky."
They’re just plain ramshackle. Perhaps this was never better exemplified than the time I flew Southwest and the pilot randomly, mid-flight, got on his speaker and announced to the cabin not the weather in the city we were approaching or pointing out some natural wonder down below, but simply asked, "So, did you hear the one about the donkey...?" Only he never finished. That was it. Maybe there was a checkers game being played in the cockpit and he got caught up. All we heard was our pilot, the man we were entrusting our lives with, miles up in the air, mindlessly asking us about a donkey and then never even coming up with a punchline.
In light of all of this, no one is more shocked than I to hear myself utter the following words: I don’t think Southwest did anything wrong by recently bumping a slim passenger to make room for a passenger whose size necessitated two seats.
The details: The thin passenger was flying standby. She had paid the fare for the last available seat, boarded, settled in, and was then told she had to leave because a late-arriving passenger with a confirmed seat had just arrived. That passenger happened to be an overweight 14-year-old girl who required two seats because of her size.
"It didn't seem right that I should have to leave to accommodate someone who had only paid for one seat," Skinny Standby told a reporter. (She has asked to remain anonymous because she’s worried people may consider her anger to be insensitive.)
Here’s the thing. Skinny Standby wasn’t booted because she was a 5’4”, 110 pounds. She had to give up her seat because she was flying standby, and a confirmed seat trumps standby. A Golden Doodle with a ticket would trump standby, too. If she was 5’1” and 160 pounds, she would have been bumped. Whether or not you agree with the whole "pay for two seats if you’re too big to fit in one" policy, the airlines has an obligation to honor confirmed passengers.
That said, even Southwest itself acknowledges they could have handled the situation better, perhaps asking for volunteers to deplane in exchange for a free ticket. Unless I was racing to Los Angeles to witness the impending birth of my niece and my sister-in-law was in labor at that very moment, I can think of very few times when I wouldn't gladly give up my seat and putz around O’Hare for two hours if it’d net me a free ticket.
One interesting point here is how differently the public reacts to a thin person wronged versus a heavy person wronged. Skinny Standby is so concerned that people will consider her a scrawny little whiner who’s prejudiced against big people that she’s remaining anonymous. And yet, the headlines are painting her as a victim (“Petite Woman Bumped Off Southwest Flight For Hefty Passenger.”)
But it were a heavy person forced to leave for not fitting in the seat (as was the case with Kevin Smith), the public’s contempt focuses on the overweight individual’s size and its inherent reflection of that individual’s laziness/lack of willpower. Headlines are more about shaming the flab off of them (“Kevin Smith 'Too Fat to Fly' Southwest.”)
Getting lost in all of this: The raging childhood obesity epidemic in this country. The passenger who "won" in this situation really lost. She isn’t even old enough to drive, but her girth requires two seats. I am not pointing this out to shame her in any way, shape or form. I’m saying this because she, along with a full one-third of her young peers, is at risk for previously adults-only conditions such as type 2 diabetes (aka adult-onset diabetes), high blood pressure and joint pain, and may be struggling emotionally (both a cause and effect of her obesity.) This Southwest situation will truly be resolved when we can stop worrying about one versus two seats and start tackling the real problem.
Do you think Southwest did anything wrong by bumping the standby passenger? Chime in below.
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