Southwest Nearly Lets Liver Transplant Patient Die Because He Wouldn’t Buy 2nd Ticket

UPDATE: Southwest apologizes and gives a refund.

Richard Brown nearly died on Sunday, January 21st, thanks to reckless indifference by a Southwest Airlines ticket agent.

A dying hep-C patient, Richard, secured an appointment at the Mayo Clinic. After getting turned down, he was referred to the University of San Francisco.

When he went to board in Scottsdale for California, the ticket agent refused to let Richard fly unless he bought another ticket, due to his weight.

The weight gain is due to water retention because of his failing liver. Richard lives on California Disability Pay and had no funds to pay for the extra ticket. The flight was not sold out.

The ticket agent didn’t care when shown Richard’s medical papers, saying, “each airport has their own rules and these are ours, no extra seat, no boarding.”

Family scrounged up what little money they had to help him pay for meals. Call after call to customer service ended in countless transfers and wrong numbers.

Finally, a Southwest Airlines agent in Dallas paid for Richard’s ticket herself.

“All the while, Richard sat freezing wrapped in several blankets at the gate. The Southwest agent content to let him die in the boarding area,” writes his daughter Brandi.

The rest of her story, inside…

UPDATE: We asked some followup questions of the daughter


Brandi writes:

    “Richard Brown, a disabled Hep-C victim scraping by on the pennies we call “California Disability Pay,” secured a last minute appointment and dying hope for a liver transplant at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona only to be refused boarding by Southwest Airlines because of his weight. Richard is suffering from the final stages of Hep-C, which includes grossly excessive water retention due to a failing liver. With an impending death sentence, Richard’s only hope is a liver transplant.

    Richard Brown and his caretaker, Paul, boarded a Southwest flight in Sacramento to Phoenix on Sunday, January 21, 2007, with the hopes of receiving a life-saving liver transplant from Mayo Clinic.

    Booking his flight and accommodations were no ordinary travel arrangement. The liver transplant appointment was granted at the last minute, and Richard, living on State Disability, could not afford the last minute flight fares and Scottsdale hotel accommodations. Richard’s mother, Lessie Diffey who is 70 years old and recovering from a recent heart operation, likewise could not afford to save her son’s life. Richard’s only hope was his daughter Ms. Brown who is currently residing in Japan. Ms. Brown, fighting international time zones and time constraints, arranged for accommodations and airplane fare.

    Ms. Brown telephoned Southwest from Japan, informing them of her father’s condition. Ms. Brown was reassured that a note had been entered into the computer, notifying the gate agent of Richard’s condition. The bookings were made (note without any discount, which is normally afforded to medical emergency passengers), and Richard and his caretaker boarded the flight in Sacramento without occurrence.

    Upon arrival in Scottsdale, Mayo Clinic denied Richard the liver, and referred him to the University of San Francisco. Richard changed his return flight to the next available flight from Phoenix to Sacramento in order to get in immediate contact with the University of San Francisco. Again, a race against his death’s clock.

    Upon arrival at Southwest’s gate, the boarding agent refused to allow Richard to fly unless he purchased another ticket, citing Richard’s weight as the reason. The flight was not sold out, so an empty seat next to Richard was available and no passengers would be inconvenienced by Richard’s size. But seeing an opportunity to make an extra fare, Southwest’s agent, having been informed of Richard’s flailing medical condition and shown supporting medical documentation, refused to allow Richard to board, stating “each airport has their own rules and these are ours, no extra seat, no boarding.” Richard, not having access to readily available funds, could not afford to purchase another seat. Indeed, various family members contributed the only spare change they had to give Richard a mere $300 for meals and incidentals. Again, the plea for help fell on deaf Southwest ears.

    Richard contacted his mother via a collect call, who in turn immediately called Southwest’s customer service, which turned out to be a myriad of transfers and wrong numbers. Customer service agent after customer service agent, each Southwest agent transferred Mrs. Diffey to a wrong number and refused to help, even once to the baggage department in Texas.

    Until finally, an agent in Dallas named Becky offered to pay for the ticket herself. All the while, Richard sat freezing wrapped in several blankets at the gate. The Southwest agent content to let him die in the boarding area.

    Once an airline accepts the responsibility of allowing a passenger to travel, it is their responsibility to get the passenger home. Southwest appears not to care whether the passenger be alive or dead during his transit home.”

Appalling. — BEN POPKEN

http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2007/01/southwestticket-thumb.jpg?w=522&h=1061

Brandi writes:

    “Hi Ben,

    Thank you for your reply, and I appreciate your consideration.

    My father is at home literally on his death bed. He has nearly lost all bowel control, is in excruciating pain due to the water pressure on his nerves, most of the time is immobile because it is too painful to stand, and his cognitive abilities come and go. Due to his liver condition, painkillers are not an option….

    …Per my last conversation with my father, his water weight was around 125 pounds, with a total weight of around 300 pounds. I am confirming this with him….

    …He has an appointment with the University of San Francisco during the first week of February, so hopefully they will take him as a transplant recipient. Fingers are crossed, as we are really down to our last straw.

    Sincerely,
    Brandi”

Comments

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  1. E-Bell says:

    I’m not surprised. Southwest is the Wal Mart of airlines.

  2. Will this be on the next episode of “Airline”?

  3. Coder4Life says:

    That is rediculous. This story is almost worse than the $70,000 stolen from that guy from a used car sales people.

    Hopefully they fire the Agent, or atleast send her into ethical training.

  4. TheUpMyAssPlayers says:

    What the fuck!!!!!

    Has Southwest violated any laws? Can they be sued for massive damages?

    Please say yes.

    And shit, I thought these were the good guys???

    • OnePumpChump says:

      Quick, name five “good guys” who stayed good once they got a reputation for being good guys.

      Here is how it goes:
      Company builds good reputation.
      Assholes take over and proceed to squander that reputation while churning out shit and/or shitting all over customers.
      After destroying what their predecessors (or former collaborators) built, through incompetence, laziness, or stinginess, the aforementioned assholes ride their golden parachutes to safety while the company that they just destroyed either collapse, or find someone competent to bring them back to some semblance of normalcy.

      How many times have we seen this happen? How can you even act surprised?

  5. William Mize says:

    Wonder what ol’ Herb would say about this? There comes a time when someone has to do the right thing as opposed to doing what the rulebook says is the right thing.

    Could you imagine the amount of POSITIVE publicity that SW could have garnered if they’d given the guy a FREE flight?

  6. shiny says:

    I recall from watching an episode of “Airline” that a “passenger of large carriage” (depending on whatever guidelines they have come up with at that moment) must pay for an extra seat regardless of whether or not the flight is full. However — if the flight turns out not to be full, apparently the money remitted for that extra seat can be refunded to the purchaser.

    Keep in mind, once again, that my information comes from what I saw on a television show a year or two back; I don’t know if this is the case or not. Either way — kudos to Becky for stepping up (and, most likely, handing in one of her free tickets — which doesn’t make her actions any less charitable).

    That being said — how do you feel other air carriers would react to this? I’m not certain United, AA, USAirways or any of the other large carriers would have reacted much differently.

  7. The Unicorn says:

    The Southwest agents I’ve encountered have generally above-par in terms of customer service, & I know the company takes this very seriously as well. I would be absolutely shocked if the agent in question wasn’t subjected to a very public condemnation by the powers that be at the airline, on top of some sort of restitution being made to Richard and his family.

    But obviously, if they don’t make amends, then this will dramatically alter my belief that Southwest actually cares about its customers, and I can’t imagine its sales wouldn’t suffer from other people’s similar changes of heart.

  8. Skeptic says:

    Indeed, the above case was appalling and should have been handled differently by Southwest and should issue an immediate apology, their policy should be revised and their employee disciplined–assuming the facts turn out to be as described even though it is not Southwest’s fault that a deathly ill person was flying a standard flight and it is generally unreasonable to expect an airline to function as an air ambulance. But it is an exceptional case that brings in to question the general principle of charging more for people who take up more than one seat. Is this a reasonable practice?

    Large people already have enough issues without having to pay double to fly, but I’m torn on this issue. Larger individuals require more space and fuel to transport. You can fit a lot more supermodels into a plane than sumo-wrestlers. Should supermodels and sumo-wrestlers really pay the same rate?

    Once I was the last person on a fully booked Southwest flight. I walked up and down the aisle to find the seat but couldn’t see it. Finally a flight attendant pointed it out to me. It was actually half a seat because the 450 pound man sitting next to it had the armrest up and took up fully half of the last remaining seat in addition to his own. He had not booked or paid for the two seats he needed so the seat showed up in the manifest as available. I politely declined the seat. I needed the full seat I’d paid for and the other gentleman had no right to take mine or expect me to sit with his lap on mine. As a result I had to take a later flight.

    I’m not sure who should pay when a person needs two seats but I do know I should get the single seat I paid for. When larger people buy clothes they have to pay more. Period. They need larger clothes that use more fabric and they don’t get to complain to the store that they shouldn’t have pay more than average sized people regardless of the reason for their larger size, be it genetic, medical or otherwise. Why we understand that this should be the case for clothes but not for 2x-sized seats seems inconsistent.

    No matter how this is worked out, somebody will lose money. The question is who that will be.

  9. WindowSeat says:

    I really want to believe in karmic retribution, but what will happen is the bitter/evil ticket agent will be very publically terminated and said agent will learn nothing and blame Mr. Brown for her situation.

  10. infinitysnake says:

    I’m speechless. Wow.

  11. Keter says:

    Skeptic — remember that what goes around comes around. :o(

    I agree that people who choose to be the size of two normal people should have to pay proportionally, but this was not the case in this instance.

    I believe Richard encountered a really unfortunate series of errors and one agent who doesn’t embody the usual Southwest spirit. They really do try to do right; he ran into someone who had a personality problem. The phone transfer issue looks like a broken process, not malice. It doesn’t say what time of day this happened, either; I’m wondering where the supervisors were because there usually are a couple readily available.

    Consumerist, I hope you keep us updated on how Southwest responds to this complaint and let us know if Richard gets his liver.

  12. acambras says:

    Maybe this agent felt self-righteously justified in her behavior — a lot of people feel like it’s ok to hate on the obese because they figure the obesity is due to lack of self-control or willpower.

    I suppose Skeptic has a point — larger people pay more for clothes. Taller people often pay extra for extra legroom. People who need more space (for themselves, their families, or their stuff) pay more for larger rental cars. Even construction costs are often spoken of in cost per square foot — more space = more money.

    But suddenly demanding that anyone (for any reason) buy an extra seat on a return flight (he’d flown the outbound leg from Sacramento to Scottsdale without incident) reeks of extortion to me.

  13. Juancho says:

    I’m surprised this hasn’t received more play in the media- airlines are an easy target, especially on a slow news day or for a talking head.

    A hearty kudos to Becky for stepping up, whether she donated from her own ticket stash or paid out of pocket. I would agree that the Southwest agents I’ve dealt with have been pretty decent. Calling them the Wal-Mart of airlines is pretty harsh, given that economy flights aren’t really that different (other than plane and number of stops) versus other shopping. I’d rather fly a 737 with cattle-call seating with them than a smaller Embraer with assigned seating on Continental.

  14. kellkell says:

    Keter,

    My question is who determines if someone chooses to be the size of 2 normal people? Thyroid issues as well as a myriad of other problems can cause weight problems. From all reports Americans are bigger than ever now and airlines cramming as many seats as possible into a plane doesn’t help the issue. I am of a median weight, not a stick and not obese and I’ve sat in some seats that were uncomfortably small.

    At any rate this situation is terrible and I certainly hope Southwest issues a apology and takes care of this gentleman.

  15. TedSez says:

    Skeptic, I would agree with you, except that most coach airline seats these days aren’t even wide enough for an average-size person to sit in comfortably. It’s as if a dress shop said, “All we have are size zero, so you’ll need to squeeze into one of those. If you can’t, then you’ll have to pay double so we can sew two dresses together.”

  16. Myron says:

    Now that’s some bad press.

  17. jblake1 says:

    As a counter/gate agent for a major airline I cannot begin to tell you the number of times people try to bypass policies that are 1.) intended for safety 2.) for the comfort of all passengers 3.) conditions that they should advise the airline prior to attempting to obtain a boarding pass.

    While every situation is unique you have to be consistent in ensuring compliance in these situations otherwise it would be impossible to set expectations for customers. They are not in place to punish or inconvenience people.

  18. sfinkster7 says:

    I have sat next to some rather large people on flights and it is downright annoying to be squeezed in, I think the airlines collect the double fares then double book the extra seat so in either case we lose. More to the point of the article is that I am a Southwest frequent flyer with enough points to qualify for a companion ticket for a year, I am ready to turn in my pass, as I always viewed Southwest as the one airline who would go the extra mile for their customers, they have for me in the past and I am shocked that in this case their customer was hung out to dry.

  19. weave says:

    I’m fairly large, and it’s due to a medical condition — I consume more calories than I burn.

    But thankfully I can still get the arm rest down and don’t need a seat extender. My friends and wife have orders to take me out into a field and shoot me if I ever get that big.

    I have had to sit next to some very large people before. I spent one flight with one of my ass cheeks hanging into the aisle. Thankfully that plane had an aisle arm rest that could be moved up (not all of them do). It was still a horrible flight.

    Basically, even though I’m somewhat overweight I have little sympathy for other fat people — unless it truly is an unavoidable medical condition, which sounds like was the case with this gentleman. Normally, fat people should pay for two seats. Hopefully I never fall into that category but if I ever do, I have no one to blame but myself for it.

  20. FLConsumer says:

    As far as this situation goes, if the passenger had the documentation, the agent should have let him slide by… let’s face it, even if he has insurance, he’s still going have some financial issues to deal with after the surgery. I agree with the others that this was a missed PR opportunity — fly him free & make a media event out of it. Especially when all of the other carriers seem to be experiencing quite a bit of negative press, this could have been a real win for SW.

    /soapbox on
    I’m skinny and well underweight (BMI of 16.7)… so, when do I get my discount? I don’t take up as much space, consume far less oxygen, and don’t require anywhere near as much fuel to move (nor food to eat) as those at the larger end of the spectrum.

    I’m getting tired of the world catering to the problems created by obesity rather than working to solve it. I can’t count how many restaurants I go to now which have oversized chairs/booths where I’m totally uncomfortable. Literally, at Steak N Shake, if I try to sit all the way back in the booth, there’s almost 12″ between me and the table. In some places, I’ve resorted to bringing my backpack in with me and use it as a chair back.

    Even everyday items are growing in size. It took me forever to find an office chair which actually fit my back. All of the chairs I tried probably would have fit if I was about 2x as wide. Likewise, I had to buy a new blood pressure monitor (hypotension accompanies lower weight, imagine that…) and all of the “standard adult” cuffs are now about 2″ larger than the one I had. I ended up having to get a monitor special ordered with a “child / small adult” cuff. WTF?!? My old monitor had a “standard adult” cuff on it and was fine.

    I certainly can sympathize with those of larger size. At no other point in humanity has fattening/unhealthy food been cheaper and more available than it is now. I have to keep my weight in a narrow range for cardiac reasons, so I do have to watch my diet… BUT, in many (most?) cases of obesity, it *IS* a case of willpower, or “instant gratification” to be more precise. For many of them, emotional eating is to blame, BUT, unless they’re willing to take a good, hard look at themselves and deal with their issues and take accountability for where they’re at now, they’re destined to remain that way.
    /soapbox off

  21. Skeptic says:

    @Kellkell wrote, “My question is who determines if someone chooses to be the size of 2 normal people? Thyroid issues as well as a myriad of other problems can cause weight problems. From all reports Americans are bigger than ever now “

    Here you point out two slightly contradictory points, that people don’t choose to be morbidly obese and that Americans are larger now than ever–which is part of our national lifestyle choices. One of the issues with whether larger people should pay for two seats or not is the way we subsidize accommodations for the disabled. I think Americans generally support free subsidization of accommodations for the disabled, but people’s size is a complex issue sometimes based on a disability and sometimes based on our lifestyle choices and there is no way to tell just by looking at someone. And being larger doesn’t necessarily mean you are less heathy than a skinnier person–but it does mean you take up more space than they do.

    keter wrote “Skeptic — remember that what goes around comes around. :o(“

    I think if you read my original comment you’ll find I thought that Southwest should apologize, revise their policies and discipline their employee. I’m not sure what your point is vis-a-vis me.

    @Ted: Indeed airline seats keep getting smaller even as Americans keep getting larger. A big part of the problem is that Americans want the cheapest seats more than we want comfort. Every day we vote with our wallets and we consistently buy the lowest possible fares. Our mouths say we want larger seats but our wallets say different. To be sure, some people are willing to pay more–but they only want to pay a little more. They have the option of paying double right now and having two seats.

    Please note, I’m not necessarily saying the current practice is fair or desireable.

  22. AcilletaM says:

    Somebody beat me to it but it’s been Dugg.

    Southwest = Fucktards

  23. This is sick! It’s literally the “I wouldn’t lift a finger to save your life” situation. Thank goodness for people like Becky.

    While every situation is unique you have to be consistent in ensuring compliance in these situations otherwise it would be impossible to set expectations for customers.

    I doubt other customers would expect special treatment just because of an exception made in an extreme situation like this. At the very least the first agent could have done what Becky did and offer a ticket out of a stash (if she didn’t pay out her own pocket).

  24. Trandrewo says:

    Although I am not a legal expert (yet), I would suggest that Richard seek out an attorney. He may have a cause of action for extortion and intentional infliction of emotional distress (among others) based on SW’s knowledge of his medical condition and their active participation in placing him in this situation.

    Allow me some cynicism: Richard may be able to find an attorney to work on a contingency basis. There are a lot of attorneys (shiesty ones) who will recognize that while this may be a long shot claim, SW will almost certainly settle (out of a desire to avoid litigation expense and bad PR). The case probably wouldn’t be worth all that much, but Richard may be able to find a contingency or pro-bono attorney to get him a few thousand dollars and a well deserved apology letter.

  25. superchou says:

    shameful. simply shameful. I hope southwest will do something to make this right and reevauluate their policies… especially since this was not even a sold out flight

  26. nick says:

    I really don’t know what to say about this.

    Procedures and protocols aside, if someone [with medical documentation] is literally dying in front of you, I don’t understand how you could behave like that.

    It just goes to show that for every Wesley Autey out there, there is someone else at the other end of the spectrum.

  27. Chris says:

    Good stuff, Kester. I’d chalk this up to an isolated case of someone blindly following “procedure.” Notice that the “hero” of the story is also a Southwest employee, who reached into her own pocket to make things right.

    I had a little trouble following the story, frankly, and the overwrought prose doesn’t help matters. Then again, I’ve (thankfully) no experience with liver failure or the transplant process.

  28. I’m getting tired of the world catering to the problems created by obesity…

    *laughing my ass off*

  29. pdxguy says:

    From the SW website: “…the mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.” I’d have to say that they missed the mark in this case.

    Also from the SW website:
    Customer Relations
    Compliments, complaints, questions about service? Please write to us so we can offer a detailed, documented reply. Inquiries about service should include date(s) of travel, flight number(s), city-pair(s), and names of persons traveling. Send your written inquiry to:
    Jim Ruppel
    Vice President Customer Relations and Rapid Rewards
    P.O. Box 36647
    Dallas, TX 75235-1647
    214-792-4223 during business hours

    I searched all over and couldn’t locate any customer service oriented email addresses.

  30. acambras says:

    jblake1 says:
    As a counter/gate agent for a major airline I cannot begin to tell you the number of times people try to bypass policies that are 1.) intended for safety 2.) for the comfort of all passengers 3.) conditions that they should advise the airline prior to attempting to obtain a boarding pass.

    But his daughter DID advise the airline of his medical problems when she bought the ticket. AND since he’d flown SW from Sacramento to Scottsdale days earlier, the airline knew about his size.

    Again, for the agent to demand extra money from anyone (especially a visibly sick man) on a RETURN trip (that had already been paid for) is tantamount to extortion.

  31. kellkell says:

    @Skeptic “Here you point out two slightly contradictory points, that people don’t choose to be morbidly obese and that Americans are larger now than ever-“
    Actually not contradictory, my point was, who can determine if someone CHOOSES to be obese?
    If many Americans are now obese, how are the airlines supposed to determine who has chosen to be that way, and charge them more vs someone who is medically that way. The airlines do not see a difference between someone medically obese and someone who is from some of the comments, just lacking willpower or just lazy. There is obviously a difference and so my question was, who can determine that? Are the airlines going to now start requiring doctors notes? And if they do, will they respect them? It’s apparent from this situation that the proper documentation didn’t matter.

  32. Magister says:

    If the person is going to require the space of two seats, then two seats should be purchased. I am a fat ass, but I don’t require two seats. I don’t want a person that requires two seats being shoehorned in next to me in the little seats.

    I feel bad for the guy, but if you are that big, then 2 seats should be purchased.

  33. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    @pdxguy
    You can’t email Southwest. That has been the way it is forever.

  34. Deryn says:

    If this story is accurate, the gate agent was an unbelievable asshole. Presented with evidence and with empty seats on the plane, I fail to understand why she insisted on being inhuman.

    That said, if permission were obtained to fly on one ticket only, and there was trouble at the gate, could Richard have not referred the gate agent to the person he talked with? I know this was urgent and probably no one thought to get the contact information, but it just goes to show you — always get a name and number.

    I like Southwest — certainly as airlines go, it’s nicer a company than most. I’m also a fat girl (sorry, FLConsumer, I’m ruining the world for you) — not extender-fat, but I do live in fear that they’re going to ask me to buy an extra seat someday. Why? Because I know about that policy. I understand it, and I’m ready for it. I’m fat because of me, and if there are penalties to be paid, I’m gonna pay ‘em. I just hope they don’t ask me really loudly in front of everyone.

    I’m curious about Southwest corporate has to say about it. Did Brandi attempt to contact them at all with this story before coming here? I really find it hard to believe they would condone the actions of this agent or fail to try and remedy the situation somehow.

    Finally, how did the liver transplant go?

  35. katana says:

    “I agree that people who choose to be the size of two normal people should have to pay proportionally, but this was not the case in this instance.”

    I agree with the above comment. This man was deathly ill and this should have been handled differently. However, if I board a plane and find someone taking up 1.5 seats– including half of mine– and he/she appears perfectly healthy, I’d be pretty d*mn pissed off. Sans deathly illess, bigger person = bigger price. It’s not abot your size, it’s about how much space you’d consume. And, I don’t like someone’s absurdly large thigh imposing on the seat that *I* paid for. Obviously, if the person was deathly ill.. I’d be more understanding.

  36. katana says:

    “If the person is going to require the space of two seats, then two seats should be purchased. I am a fat ass, but I don’t require two seats. I don’t want a person that requires two seats being shoehorned in next to me in the little seats.”

    Same here. Ok, I’m going on a diet NOW. I’m not that big, obviously, but boy..

  37. katana says:

    “If many Americans are now obese, how are the airlines supposed to determine who has chosen to be that way, and charge them more vs someone who is medically that way.”

    Medical or by choice, I don’t give a frickin’ d*mn. You can get medical assistance, diet, exercise, etc. and be *less* fat. You might not ever be thin, but you won’t be 2 seats wide fat.

    The ONLY absurdly fat people who should NOT have to pay for 2 seats are deathly ill patients like this on their way to get a life-extending and life altering treatment.

    Otherwise, diet, exercise, get surgury– whatever– or buy 2 frickin’ seats.

  38. katana says:

    “Every day we vote with our wallets and we consistently buy the lowest possible fares.”

    Excellent point.

    On an aside to another poster: Sue, snew. I’m sick of the legit-happy society. Accept a frickin’ apology, free ticket(s), and call it a day.. move on with life.

  39. kellkell says:

    @katana Not sure if you’re directing this to me as I was just asking someone else because they were making a distinction.
    At any rate I don’t think you need to be 2 seats wide fat to have Southwest require you purchase a second seat.
    As I said in a previous post, I am an average sized person, 5’8″ and about 130 pounds and even I find issue with seat sizes at times.
    But this isn’t the issue here, and I am going to bow out of an argument that seems to be turning into a rather nasty judgment-fest.

  40. AcilletaM says:

    I thought Southwest’s policy was if you are fat you have to buy an extra seat but you don’t actually get an extra seat. So Southwest gets an extra fare, the person of a larger size still squeezes into one seat, and the people around this gravitationally challenged person are still ‘inconvienced’ but yet get no discount or extra money. Am I wrong? If I’m correct, the more pay for more space arguement has no business being used here.

    A big part of the problem is that Americans want the cheapest seats more than we want comfort.

    No, corporations want to maximize profit potential and willingly sacrifice quality in doing so. Recent Wal-Mart and Gap stories highlight this.

    From the SW website: “…the mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.” I’d have to say that they missed the mark in this case.

    It’s hard to provide the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, etc when the first thing they do when you walk up is play the guess your weight carny game.

  41. John says:

    Have no fear, Southwest WILL make restitution, most likely to the nth degree. The first agent may get canned, but the second will get promoted. Don’t forget, this is the airline that rewarded the pilot who came back to the gate to pick up a late passenger, after they had pushed back. No other airline will ever do that.

  42. bluwapadoo says:

    Well if the warrant for charging more porportionately is because fat people take up more space/use more fuel, then it seems like we should take luggage into account.

    If someone weights 90 pounds more than you but you bring 90 pounds more in luggage, then you have the same fuel costs. So airlines should just weight every person and every bag (including carryons) and then divide it up.

    As for space, if your bags are bigger (both in luggage and/or in the limited overhead compartment), should you not be charged more? After all, if someone has no carryons and you bring on a turbo sized suitcase, you are taking up more space. Plus, this justifies charging people who are really tall since they take up more space.

    Pragmatically, charging more can’t work since most booking is done over the intranets. Do you have to check a box that says “I may or may not be able to fit in your seats depending on their demensions. By booking this flight, I acknowledge that I have actually reserved nothing, until you determine whether or not I have to buy another seat when I get there (depending on availability).” Perhaps they will start have sample seats at check-in, like they do at roller coaster rides.

  43. benko29 says:

    another reason why privatizing healthcare in canada would be a grave mistake. when people are so in debt due to their medical conditions that they can’t afford to make those medical conditions right, something needs to be changed.
    the US needs a Tommy Douglas.

  44. Aweekinthelifeofaredhead says:

    As someone who used to travel for business, I never flew SW because it lacked the necessary accommodations I need to work in-route. Add the fact that I am 5’10” – many Airline seats don’t have the length I need to sit comfortably – esp. SW. Everyone is packed in like sardines.
    I don’t fault people dealing with weight issues. SW is trying to pack in as many seats as they can to maximum capacity for the bottom line.
    However, William A. Banks, M.D., professor of geriatrics in the department of internal medicine and professor of pharmacological and physiological science at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, speculates that people gain fat to increase the amount of leptin needed to push through the communications bottleneck. “The research is significant as it suggests a new way that the brain and the body communicate about body weight. Obesity is the result when that communication falters,” he says. Banks, who is also a staff physician at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Louis, says problems with transporting leptin to the brain lead to a vicious cycle. There are now more than 1 billion overweight people. It is a pretty sizable demographic (no pun intended) to treat poorly…
    C

  45. The_Truth says:

    They are not ‘large’ or ‘obese’.
    They are fat, very very fat.

    PC gone wrong, people are so afraid of hurting other peoples opinions, that they end up using polite terms for a wasteful, greedy lifestyle that impacts the entire planet and imposes a reduction of quality on those around you.

    The airline was wrong in its treatment of him, as they were informed ahead of time and they had all the documentation.

    For everyone else that ways more than an actual cow, part of which is going to be sitting on my dinner plate tonight, loose some (a lot) of weight, lower your impact on the environment, stop imposing on others, and if your going to fly, pay for two seats and make sure you distribute yourselves equally on the left and right hand sides of the plane.

  46. Panhandler says:

    I have a hypothetical question for the audience… What would you say to a new airline that said, essentially, “Look, we move poundage from Point X to Point Y. We charge $X/lb, whether the pounds are IN you, ON you, or owned BY you. You weigh 100 lbs. and have a 100 lb. suitcase? You pay 200 times $X. You weigh 200 pounds and have no luggage? 200 times $X.”

    It’s what we do with poundage at a UPS or FedEx place; could an airline do the same thing? I ask in all sincerity – no setup, no agenda, no malice, etc.

  47. ella says:

    “I’m getting tired of the world catering to the problems created by obesity” says FLConsumer at 1:56.

    EDUCATE YOURSELF PLEASE! Hep C is NOT a cause of obesity. It is a bloode borne virus that more than 3.9 million people in this country have.

    As the article says, his weight gain is because of liver failure.

    Check out hepcfight.com website and learn a little bit before you minimize the risk that Richard was in. And realize you probably already know something with the disease!

  48. The_Truth says:

    Pound for $ airline?

    Sign me up!

  49. pronell says:

    Not only are some of these people very, very fat, but when the airlines got deregulated, they started making the seats smaller and smaller, so they could pack more people on, so they could cut the fares, and… they’ve failed to compete. They’re bankrupt. They went for the lowest common denominator and STILL failed to be profitable.

    So.. screw ‘em, seriously. They knew along with everyone else in this country that we are getting fatter, and they decided to make their chairs smaller. It was a ridiculous business decision, and I would not take my cash to someone who would insult me in such a way.

    And that all of this has happened in a thread where the man is only so large BECAUSE of his medical condition, and it is causing him to retain water and swell up..

    There’s no excuse on the part of the airline, no matter how oppressed you feel by all the blubber around you, pal.

    All that said, I wouldn’t mind the pay-by-the-pound idea, even though I’m a pretty big guy myself. It’d have to be part of a package that makes their entire pricing scheme make some degree of sense, though. Like, for example, no reselling my seat on the flight I couldn’t make unless I’m getting my money back, less a set reservation fee.

    And once a year, the CEO of each airline will be stripped to their underwear, bound to a chair, and gagged. Then they will be shot with a one paintball for every seat they overbooked on a flight that year.

    And all the stewardesses should be topless.

    Okay, maybe not the last one.

    (Seriously, I’d even let ‘em wear safety goggles.)

  50. m says:

    You know, we’re all assuming his claim was legitimate. But, the Mayo clinic felt he was healthy enough to deny him a liver and send him to San Francisco…

    My point is that perhaps the gate guy, who represents Southwest, not the customer, was doing what he thought was right. Perhaps he didn’t trust that just because some guy shows up with papers that may or may not be legitimate (I’m not saying they weren’t) doesn’t mean you trust him. If I were large and faced with the prospect of paying double fares every time I flew, I might get a set of papers like that.

  51. They are not ‘large’ or ‘obese’.
    They are fat, very very fat.

    PC gone wrong, people are so afraid of hurting other peoples opinions, that they end up using polite terms for a wasteful, greedy lifestyle that impacts the entire planet and imposes a reduction of quality on those around you.

    Oh for God’s sake, ‘obese’ isn’t a politically correct term for fat. It’s a medical term. That’s like saying acanthosis nigricans is a PC term for dark skin. What’s with all the whining about overweight people anyway?

  52. tspack says:

    Mark Bigelow, we don’t know why he was denied the liver. Not sick enough is one option, but not the only one. Too sick? Not a match? Someone else had higher priority? The other hospital has some specialty that he requires?

  53. katana says:

    kellkell– My comment wasn’t directed at you. :)

    “Well if the warrant for charging more porportionately is because fat people take up more space/use more fuel, then it seems like we should take luggage into account.”

    Um, luggage kinda is taken into account. If your bag is over 70 or so pounds, you’re charged extra. If you bring more than the alloted amount of luggage, you’re charged more.

    Thus, if you bring more than the determined amount of weight (i.e. you’re fat as hell), you should be and occasionally (NOT OFTEN ENOUGH) are charged more.

  54. katana says:

    “Oh for sake, ‘obese’ isn’t a politically correct term for fat.”

    Ha, ha. True. Skinny biaaatches, or fat bastards. There’s slander for all shapes and sizes. Plenty to go around, folks.

  55. drrew says:

    The vitriol used by some of the posters on this thread is just sad.

  56. ikes says:

    There was a comment on Consumerist yesterday by someone who was given a free round-trip plane ticket by a Southwest counterperson so that they could attend a loved one’s funeral.

    Just as that one incident alone doesn’t make Southwest the greatest airline ever, neither does this event make Southwest satan with wings.

  57. vannsant says:

    The policy is that if you are required to purchase an extra seat and the flight isn’t full (i.e. there are empty seats) you can send in for a full refund for the cost of the extra seat.

    Also, I’m disappointed in the sensationalist headline. The man was sick, but people that are close to death or could’ve died while waiting for the next flight (or whatever) don’t fly commercial, do they? C’mon Adam, you’re starting to sound like a yellow journalism fool.

  58. sassenach says:

    An idiot calling himself The_Truth posted:

    For everyone else that ways more than an actual cow, part of which is going to be sitting on my dinner plate tonight, loose some (a lot) of weight, lower your impact on the environment, stop imposing on others, and if your going to fly, pay for two seats and make sure you distribute yourselves equally on the left and right hand sides of the plane.

    Shouldn’t someone who doesn’t know the difference between “ways” and “weighs” be send to his room?

  59. fizzer fits says:

    Big company being completely unreasonable and demonstrating a inhuman lack compassion does not surprise me in the least. Hell, we’ve seen this story a hundred times on the consumerist.

    This Becky person though! That’s something; I don’t know how much money agents make, but I’m assuming paying for a ticket (or giving up one of your freebie) is a pretty big sacrifice to make. And to someone she has never seen or met?

    God, I hope someone makes a ruetgers story out of *that*; it’d underline someone good (Becky) while invariably making note of the asshattery of something bad (SouthWest).

  60. kenposan says:

    There are kind of two different issues being discussed. One is the behavior of the SW employee and the other is size.

    Given that the man in question had a documented medical condition, was on a fixed income, and the flight was not booked, I think accommodations could have been made.

    As to larger persons paying more- if you need two seats you need to pay for two seats. Two seats are two seats. It sucks, but it’s the reality of air travel that the seats are not the largest.

  61. nan says:

    Whoa, this is kind of a touchy subject.

    Personal experience, I am petite and very slim. On more than one occasion (all times times with Southwest, oddly enough) and on separate, fully booked flights, I’ve had attendants ask me to consider switching seats with a more “average-sized” passenger to sit next to a passenger of larger girth because I would “fit” next to them.

    I foolishly agreed the first time and spent the rest of the five hour flight lamenting it when my new seat mate put our armrest and slid onto half of my seat to get comfortable. Never again!

    I don’t know who should have to pay for this. But I know someone will. This must be a frustrating experience for all parties involved..

  62. katana says:

    “Also, I’m disappointed in the sensationalist headline. The man was sick, but people that are close to death or could’ve died while waiting for the next flight (or whatever) don’t fly commercial, do they?”

    True. If the amount was seconds from death, he’d be airlifted by medilift– or something of the sort– correct? It was a timely need, but the man wasn’t half dead in the boarding area? Correct?

  63. din says:

    the thing is, this guy isn’t fat because he’s obese. he’s fat right now because he’s retaining fluid because his liver’s fucked. I have a friend wating for a liver transplant and his weight fluctuates like mad. every few months he ends up in the hospital because he suddenly balloons and needs to have fluid drained. people in that position are on severely restricted diets and have a hard time eating anything anyway.
    the documentation was there for the gate agent and he KNEW that mr. brown wasn’t that size because of his unadulterated love of funyuns and ringdings, he just decided to take it upon himself to be a cock to someone in a life-threatening situation.
    it’s one thing if someone waddles up to the gate balancing two personal pan pizzas, a hoagie, a bag of lays, a chocolate croissant and a diet coke, but when the difference of a few hours might cost a life and there is evidence to prove it, it becomes unexcusable. that asshat gate agent should have been terminated immediately, and really needs a good kicking.
    popken, please keep us apprised of mr. brown’s condition. I’m sure most of us are pulling for him.

  64. Joe Hass says:

    As the former boyfriend of a WN ticket agent, allow me to help explain their Customer of Size (CoS) policy.

    First, the WN rule on one versus two seats involves the armrest. If the armrest can come fully down, the person only has to buy one ticket. If the armrest can’t come down, it’s two. It has absolutely nothing to do with a customer’s actual weight, or how they got the condition that caused the size.

    There’s no requirement per se as to making someone buy a second ticket prior to arrival at the airport. A customer can effectively roll the dice and try showing up with one ticket; however, if the customer fails the armrest test, WN has the right to force the customer to buy a second ticket prior to boarding, especially if the flight is anything other than a non-stop (though I note, in this case, it was a non-stop, and the gate agent could’ve/should’ve realized that).

    If there’s a doubt, the protocol is to have the gate agent quietly escort the passenger onto the plane and test him/her. The problem, of course, is dealing with a furious customer when you tell them they’re on the hook for a second ticket.

    WN really, really encourages people who have any doubt as to whether they take up one or two seats to buy two seats. If the entire journey has no oversell, the passenger gets a full refund (even if the ticket is non-refundable).

    As for the price of the second ticket: the price is the lower of the price the customer paid for his/her ticket OR a child fare walk-up ticket.

    As for the situation at hand: clearly, some boarding agent with an IQ slightly higher than his/her shoe size made an absolutely horrendous call here. Undoubtedly, Becky (the heroine in today’s story) chased down the agent, and I’d bet dollars for doughnuts that agent is no longer with the company.

    I don’t know exactly what Brandi told the res agent: she told him/her about the “condition.” Was this the fact that her father was huge? Was it that he has a liver problem? A res agent can note something, but it also requires the gate agent to pull the confirmation ID up, and I don’t picture this gate agent as someone who is exactly going the extra mile here anyway.

    Here’s the question I’d ask everyone here who’s already posted to think about: WN has a full page on their Web site on this issue (http://www.southwest.com/travel_center/cos_qa.html) . They’ve been dealing with the CoS issue for at least two years now (and they’ve had the policy for over 25 years). It’s painfully obvious that this story wasn’t the result of a bad policy: it’s a horrible application of a policy. Given all this, why is the response that WN is horrible, and not that this individual employee is horrible?

    BTW: WN has never had a medical emergency discount (or bereavement fare, or what have you); in their eyes, their walk up fares are often low enough that it beats the other guys walk up fares.

  65. qi123qwe says:

    I can commiserate with the circumstances that this gentleman had to deal with. Although the situation I detail would not have resulted in a life-threatening situation for my wife, this illustrates just how callous and indifferent the Airline industry has become towards its clients. My wife and I had purchase two tickets from Houston to Phoenix but circumstances as they would have it, required that I stay for an additional day, leaving my seat open. It’s important to mention this, because my wife at the time had just undergone a leg lengthening procedure that required her to keep her leg elevated and straight in order to avoid terrible pain while in her external metal frame. The plan was for my wife to place her leg on my lap in flight so that it would not bend. We politely indicated the circumstances to the ticket agent asking that my wife be able to use my empty seat which was already paid for in advance. The answer received was a resounding ‘No’. If I was not going to fly with my wife, the airline could use my seat to fill their “Stand-by” needs. We were advised to either move my wife’s flight forward and purchase another ticket under her name in order for her to have two seats, or we could hope for the best and hope that there would be one remaining seat open after all stand-by’s were filled. With the number of stand-by’s waiting, our chances were not good. Luckily, there happened to be just one seat left after all stand-bys were boarded, but the two hour, stress induced wait was extremely unpleasant for my wife. The agent made no apology or move to find exception. This uncaring and inhumane quality of unquestioning obedience to every rule in the Airline handbook is preposterous and shows the great plummet in the human quality of air transportation.

  66. ChristianCT says:

    I’m stunned by the horrific judgemental, inhuman attitudes expressed here in response to this sick man’s terrible treatment by Southwest.

    It sickens me to read so many people justifying the inhumane treatment that this man received by recalling their own (horror of horrors!) temporary discomfort having flown for a few hours next to a fat person.

    The amount of people who’ve piled on here talking about whether this man deserved the treatment and arguing about whether it is okay to treat him thusly if he “chose” his size just makes me depressed about humanity as a whole. So many of you think it’s fine to sit in judgement of people and treat them as sub-humans if they commit the horrible crime of eating ring dings and funyuns.

    No, it’s not particularly more virtuous to jump in and clarify that this man was not larger than most people because of Hepatitis C (and therefore, has not committed the CRIME of being FAT.) It’s a virus, so he’s not really FAT! (Which is true…his size is due to fluid retention, not fat). Please, don’t treat this guy like shit…he got a virus! It’s fine to treat fat people like shit, though, since it was their CHOICE.

    You know what? The leading cause of Hep-C is injection drug use — a CHOICE. If someone is large size becuase of fluid retention from a failing liver caused by Hep-C contracted through illegal IV drug use, is he more virtuous or worthy of decency than a woman who overeats due to depression and childhood sexual abuse?

    NONE of you have any right to sit in judgement of a large person and decide whether they are worthy of kindness, patience, compassion, or even basic human decency.

    This man deserved to be treated much better – not because of his virus, or his size, or his illness, but simply because he is a person.

    ALL people deserve common decency, charity, justice, kindness. What have we become that makes it so easy to sit in condemnation of others because of their body size?

  67. “SW is trying to pack in as many seats as they can to maximum capacity for the bottom line.”

    I call bullshit on this. I’ve flown PLENTY of Southwest flights, followed immediately by PLENTY of coach United, USAirways and ATA flights. The latter ALL cram me in, with less leg room, shitty quality cloth seats, and horrible service.

    Southwest is generally VERY friendly, straightforward, and one of the more comfortable coach flights (though lacking the entertainment accoutrements of JetBlue, say) around. They’re also dirt cheap.

    I’m also “large” but definitely not two-seats large. My father was, though, and while it may have pissed him off, and I haven’t asked his opinion of this, *I* have had the displeasure of sitting next to people who leak through their seat onto mine. I have paid for my seat, therefore, I have rights to the entirety of that seat. To skinny people: unless you can cram a second person in your seat with you safely, you don’t get a discount.

    This was a unique experience, and the gate agent was an asshole. That much is true.

    But why is no one making any more mention of the employee who went out of HER way to PERSONALLY pay for this man’s second ticket? She went above and beyond, even though it wasn’t properly escalated as I’m sure people were panicking.

    Furthermore, I have experienced tragic situations before in the past. (My grandfather died as I was sitting ON the plane at the gate, doors had just shut and I received a cell phone call from my father, telling me to get off immediately. I pinged a stewardess, she alarmed the cockpit and had the jetway re-extended. They apologized profusely, and had my fare refunded and offered to help with anything I needed to reassign to fly for the funeral.)

    These people are traditionally good-spirited, kind, accommodating and friendly, and for the sins of one nasty gate agent (atoned for, some might say, by a VERY selfless, OTHER gate agent, completely removed from the situation), Southwest should not be completely chastized.

    They work EXTREMELY hard to keep their customers happy. This is evident in their general temperament and usual kindness. I think it’s a bad rap, and it was a shitty scenario, and this guy should be severely reprimanded and/or fired as a result, given the circumstances, but again, NOT indicative of the Southwest experience on the whole. They’ve change a great deal over the past 10 years, and people who think they’re the “Wal-mart of airlines” clearly haven’t flown Delta or USAirways recently.

  68. mwmwmw says:

    You guys seem to be missing the point. The man needs a liver transplant. However, he did not meet the eligibility requirements at the Mayo Clinic for a liver transplant. So, he is being referred to UCSF, but if Mayo felt he was ineligible it’s extremely likely that UCSF will find him ineligible as well. Furthermore, even if he were eligible, that means he would go on the waiting list where thousands of other people are waiting for a liver transplant and who are a substantially sicker than he is (at least he isn’t in an intensive care unit in a coma, bleeding out every single orifice his body has). He would have to wait months at the very least before he got a liver, if he even makes it on the list. Thus, what’s the big deal if he has to catch a later flight?

    You may think this man is extremely sick, and he is. But, you have no idea just how sick liver transplant patients can really get. I’ve taken care of many patients in the ICU who were in liver failure, their families desperately hoping for a liver transplant, and the majority of them died some of the most horrible and dramatic deaths I have ever witnessed. This man is still well enough to travel, so even if he got on the transplant list (which it sounds like he cannot), he would still have to wait months before he was prioritized for a liver.

  69. rivetgeek says:

    From the article:
    “…He has an appointment with the University of San Francisco during the first week of February, so hopefully they will take him as a transplant recipient. Fingers are crossed, as we are really down to our last straw.”

    This is bullshit. That’s not how organ transplants are done. You don’t just decide you need a transplant and then go shopping for one and making appointments. If you are told you need a transplant by a doctor, that doctor puts you on a waiting list with that regional transplant list based on immediate need and availability of compatible donors. Once you are in the top ten of the list, you are on 24 hour a day on-call. Meaning they could call you at 3am and tell you to get to the hospital for surgery right then. This whole traipsing around the country makes me think that for some reason (such as ongoing drug use) he was found to be unsuitable for transplantation and tried to skirt the system by flying to Arizona and they rightly told him to fuck off.

    How do I know this? My sister has a transplanted lung due to cystic fibrosis. They told her she needed a lung, they called her when it was ready, they stuck it in her. ALl done at the same hospital that told her she needed a transplant.

  70. FLConsumer says:

    ella: Read carefully before flaming, please. In this particular situation, I stated that I would be more than willing to make an exception to the policies, especially in light of there being plenty of available seats on that flight. The rest of my comments were aimed at fat people (Thanks for the reminder The_Truth) in general, not the liver transplant patient.

    Acilletam: Mediocrity reins supreme in the USA, which is why Wal-Mart and Home-Depot have top sales. Price & quantity over quality. Even Wal-Mart will openly admit (if not brag) that’s the secret to their success. Don’t believe me? Who sells more product, Wal-Mart & McDonald’s or Macy’s & Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse?

    Rapieress: I’m assuming you’re reading this from some newspaper article, as it doesn’t sound like it’s from one of the better peer-reviewed medical journals. I’d like to ask Dr. Banks if his findings correlate 100% with the study participants or is this a general trend. I’d also ask which comes first, the weight gain or the “chemical imbalance” that pharmacologists love to cite. Let’s be honest for a moment — there’s no research money available for people to say “put down the twinkie and exercise, fatass.” Having worked in academic research labs, I’m well aware of how grants are issued and the more unusual the project (especially if it flies in the face of common knowledge), the more likely your grant is to be approved.

    The formula has been unchanged since living cells appeared on the earth:

    Calories consumed – Calories burned = net gain/loss of weight.

    I’m sure some joker is going to mention water weight and yes, that does happen, but for the average Joe, this isn’t a major issue.

    and finally… it’s not been said enough, so..

    SPECIAL KUDOS TO BECKY! Give that woman a raise and promotion…maybe even promote her to Public Relations — she’s got the right idea.

  71. Amy Alkon says:

    Joe Hass was one of the few reasonable posters here — and with actual information, too.

    Then, there was the person above who pointed out that “near death” people don’t la-di-dah tough it out flying commercial. The airline can’t allow it, first of all, best I recall from when I had an extremely sick friend who needed to be airlifted. A friend of hers raised money to do it. Flying commercial simply isn’t an option in such cases, probably because it puts the entire flight at risk (ie, forced, unscheduled early landing, etc.)

    The facts here seem murky, so I won’t comment on them. In general, though, if I, a 130lb 5’9″ woman, have to pay $25 extra because my luggage is 53 lbs. instead of 50, for sure, if you take up two seats, you should pay.

    PS Most unpleasant flight ever was the one from Memphis to Little Rock last year where I was flattened against the window by a 400 pound man, sitting in my seat and his, and then some.

  72. s5 says:

    This situation has nothing to do with whether or not obese people should have to pay for two seats. I believe they should, if they take up more than one seat. I’m not obese, but if I want to use the seat next to me, I have to pay for it too.

    However, this is a completely different matter. This was a specific situation with supporting medical documentation. Airlines grant special fares for special situations all the time. For example, funerals. The man had a compelling need and documentation to back it up, so this should have been a no-brainer.

  73. “Coach seats on U.S. domestic flights are usually either 17.2 or 18 inches wide; on longer flights, economy-class seats on wide-bodied planes tend to be slightly larger, up to 18.5 inches. (A seat in an average economy car is 22 inches wide while an ordinary office chair measures 19 inches.) What has really changed is the other important dimension, what the airlines call “pitch,” the distance between rows. In coach, the industry standard is 31 to 32 inches from the back of one seat to the back of the one behind it. By comparison, business-class pitch on long hauls is 38 inches or more and can go as high as 60, while first-class ranges anywhere from 38 to 89. Every carrier makes its own decisions on its fleet’s cabin configuration-how many rows of seats to put in and where. It follows that the more rows they squeeze in, the less the space between them. People who have been flying for 20 years or more swear that ever since deregulation, airlines have been cramming more and more economy-cabin passengers into the same amount of space. Industry consultants maintain that in the last decade pitch has dropped from 34 inches to 32, with some discount carriers closing to a claustrophobic 31 inches.”

  74. superbmtsub says:

    NOTHING EVER GOOD COMES OUT OF THE SOUTH.

    1. COCKROACHES
    2. WALMART
    3. SOUTHWEST

    Note: can be applied to the human body as well.

  75. Perks2u says:

    As sad as this situation is for this guys, and I hope nothing but the best for him, Southwest was there for me in a tragedy. My sister passed away and I had to get to Phoenix from Ont. with no advanced reservations. Needless to say I was an emotional wreck. My best friend was with me and they put not just me, but my friend too, on the first available flight at NO CHARGE for a round trip ticket. To this day I am FOREVER grateful for Southwest in helping me during a very very hard time.

    Thank you again to the ones that were there for me.

    Perks2u

  76. dayjayvw says:

    I’m 6’3″
    300 pounds

    I’m a big guy, I’m not a walrus, though I’m not comfortable in airline seats (who is?) I have to assume this guy is maybe 5′ 5″ 300 and round like a bowling ball.

    It’s unfortunate that this happened but it sounds like this is a case of a poor (poverty) person not meeting criteria for large people.

    This to me is no different then someone who can’t afford health insurance not getting the proper care.

    Yes, poverty sucks, but this SWA agent is just following protocol. It’s not about character or karma it’s about doing your job and not getting fired.

  77. Joe Hass says:

    S5: I understand your concern that this is a “special situation.” However, the problem (from a policy design perspective) is that you’re putting the gate agent in the precarious position of trying to be judge and jury for what constitutes a “special situation.” Again, WN doesn’t care what caused the passenger to be in the position he’s in; all they care about is the fact that some people are so big, they need two seats. Also, again, WN doesn’t offer any sort of reduced-fare walk-up emergency fares.

    Dayjayv: The problem is that the agent didn’t follow protocol. To arbitrarily say a passenger has to buy a second seat isn’t the way it’s done.

    One of the struggles of this story is that I can see exactly how this came to be. It’s the (metaphorical) price of air travel now: there are a lot of unsavvy travelers (and travel arrangers) out there, who don’t know how to play the game, and who don’t know how to work through the system. And the bigger question (perhaps out of the scope of this thread) is how do airlines manage them. It’s not the res agent’s role to cover every conceivable situation with every caller. And no one has ever come up with a sexy idea about marketing to CoS travelers. (note: this is not to push the blame to Ms. Brown). I’m the son of two frequent flyers, and I fly regularly enough to know how to “work the refs.” For every flyer like myself, there’s a flyer like Mr. Brown.

    Allow me to make a general comment in response to the general WN bashing. For as long as WN has been in business, there’s been a sense that they’re the red-headed stepchild of the industry. Comparing WN to Wal-Mart infuriates me to no end, because they’re simply not the same business model: Wal-Mart focuses on driving down its price by any means necessary; WN launched on the theory that there had to be a cheaper way to offer a flight, and they found it. Wal-Mart treats their employees as merely another expense that they keep down; WN understands they’re nothing without their employees: they pay them well, and have higher expectations of them accordingly. Mention the word “Union” in a Wal-Mart, and Bensonville will dispatch their squad to wipe them out; WN plays nice with their bargaining partners, there’s a reason there’s never been a work stoppage at WN. I guarantee that if you were to compare a WN flight to a NW, UA, or any other “legacy” carrier on the same route, you’d see almost no difference (excepting, of course, the whole first-class thing and assigned seating). The days where a WN flight was considered bare bones compared to the legacies are gone; I don’t think Herb Kelleher would’ve ever dreamed it.

  78. Tophernet says:

    I simply do not believe this story. The further “documents” provided do not prove anything either, except that the original tickets were purchased on an American Express Card.

    I do not think it is responsible to have posted this without making sure the story is true. Southwest airlines is one of the most decent and responsible companies in the country.

  79. RAEdwards says:

    Actually, i believe the man does has grounds for a lawsuit. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act , to charge him differently is illegal. I know, you’re going to say that obesity is not a “disability”. In face, a Federal court determined from a case in Rhode Island, that while obesity itself may not be protected, morbid obesity because of a physiological problem is covered. The man had proof of his disease and ergo is covered because of his physiological condition.

  80. qubits says:

    I’m going to take Southwest’s side in this. Let’s face it, this is a nation where the better-off have access to convenient health care and people like Mr. Brown are often left out. None of that is the fault of Southwest.

    If he was truly as close to death as the original post leads one to believe then there are air ambulance services that could have whisked this man any place he needed to be and organizations to turn to in order to make that happen.

    He and his family and friends made a mistake in choosing an airline that has a well-known (and criticized) policy for charging overweight passengers an extra ticket fee. They should have known in advance.

  81. Joe Hass says:

    RAEdwards: IANAL; however, the situation here is not whether or not a fat/obese/disabled person is being charged differently because (s)he’s fat/obese/disabled. He’s being charged differently because (s)he’s taking up two seats. The WN CoS site even cites the laws in question:

    Doesn’t your policy violate the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Air Carrier Access Act?

    Interstate airline travel is specifically excluded from Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by Section 12141(2). Airline travel is instead covered by the Air Carrier Access Act, 49 U.S.C. 1374(c) and the regulations implementing the Act issued by the Department of Transportation as 14 CFR Part 382, et seq. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) preceded the ADA, and Congress excluded air carriers and other air transportation services from the scope of ADA. As regulated under 14 CFR §382.38 Seating accommodations (i) “Carriers are not required to furnish more than one seat per ticket or to provide a seat in a class of service other than the one the passenger has purchased.”

  82. mortaine says:

    I stopped flying Southwest when they implemented their “oversized” policy– a policy which is NOT supposed to apply if the flight is not full.

    My reasons for no longer flying had to do with the arbitrary nature of the word “oversized.” I am “oversized” in that my hips are wider than the standard Southwest airlines seat. They did not used to be that way, and they didn’t expand. Rather, Southwest made the seats narrower.

    So, they get to make the seats too small for a plump but not morbid gal, and then they get to decide to charge extra for it? No thanks. American has slightly wider seats and enough space between my seat and the one in front that I can open my laptop computer and use it.

  83. madktdisease says:

    My husband is heavier than this guy by 50 or so lbs. Yet we flew Southwest with NO problem in July. I honestly didn’t even know Southwest had fone through with that policy, I hadn’t heard a thing about it since the media frenzy when they announced the plans. Maybe because he is 6’3″, and he wears the weight well?

    And I’m small. I’ve always given up part of my seat for him. I sit in the middle, he gets the aisle, and whoever gets the window seat doesn’t suffer. We’re careful not to inconvenience anyone. He shouldn’t have to pay for an inconvenience he isn’t causing.

  84. DriveBy says:

    mortaine says: “They (SWA seats) did not used to be that way, and they (her hips) didn’t expand. Rather, Southwest made the seats narrower.”

    LOL – The Boeing 737 went into service in February of 1968. The diameter of the plane has not changed one millimeter since then. Since the seats on SWA have always been a 3/aisle/3 configuration, and their aisles certainly have not gotten wider, the seats are the same width they always have been. Ergo – and I hate to break it to you mortaine – the “width change” has to be you, not Southwest.

  85. AnotherView says:

    mortaine, I assume you stopped flying Southwest about 26 years ago because that is how long they have had the policy.

    This story simply does not stand up under careful analysis and, so far, has been reported soley by people who are not in a position to make objective judgements about what really happened.

    I would suggest that we do not know the facts and that this story is one we should all be very leary of until we have more information.

  86. AnotherView says:

    Southwest’s seats are all leather and have a greater “seat pitch” (front-to-back spacing) than the coach seats in most legacy carriers. There is no reason the width of their seat would change, and they have not.

    http://www.uk-air.net/seatpitch.htm

    It really is frightening how many people are willing to make inaccurate statements when they have no basis in fact.

    Anyone who depends on a blog for “facts” and not just a inexpensive form of intertainment, is just asking to be misled.

  87. Tonguetied says:

    Joe Hass, why do you use the initials WN when you are discussing Southwest?

  88. fleef says:

    what happened with the agent for SWA who paid for this poor fellow out of her own money? Any updates??

  89. AnotherView says:

    WN is the official two-letter code for Southwest Airlines.

    http://www.avrefdesk.com/two_letter_airline_codes.htm

    Not sure why they chose WN, but …

  90. AnotherView says:

    RAEdwards, the man has no grounds for a lawsuit. Almost every airline has a policy similar to Southwest, and they have never been successfully challenged.

    The only difference in Southwest’s policy is that they are the only one’s who refund the second seat fare in some cases.

    If this were a serious story, it would be reported someone besides on blogs that are notorious for questionable claims.

  91. Ms.Diva says:

    “Otherwise, diet, exercise, get surgury– whatever– or buy 2 frickin’ seats”

    So….I once flew next to a guy who was really tall and WIDE. He wasn’t fat, but his bone structure made him a very WIDE man. I ended up with the upper half of my torso hanging out into the aisle the whole flight…really uncomfortable.

    Should his bone structure mean HE should have to buy 2 seats?

  92. AnotherView says:

    In fairness, why not have a look at this blog that compares Southwest’s customer service to another airline.

    http://www.justinstanley.net/

  93. eljustino says:

    First, thanks to AnotherView for linking to my blog and my post about our experiences with SWA and Alaska. Wouldn’t have found this thread if I hadn’t seen the links in my logs…

    Second, and more importantly, the Southwest blog has a thread discussing this incident:

    http://www.blogsouthwest.com/2007/01/25/an-unfortunate-eve

    For obvious legal and privacy reasons, they aren’t detailing how they’re handling the situation, but they definitely are addressing it:

    We regret that this unfortunate situation occurred, and we are in the process of expressing our regret to this Customer and his family. Out of regard for their privacy, we can’t comment on the specifics of the circumstances in a public forum like this blog. But I hope you realize that, as a Company which has a longstanding reputation for compassion, we are always striving to do the right thing.

  94. betternow says:

    I am a former employee of Southwest Airlines. I am ethical and did a great job. The famous “spirit” of the company existed only in the initial two weeks of company training. After the assignment to the regular duty station, things were different. I worked there long enough that I’m not surprised that this could happen. My fellow employees told me that the spirit I experienced in class was prevalent in the early days. With new leadership (after Kelleher) and the expanding business, it’s hard to keep that wild, crazy, nutty, compassionate culture that the company was known for. A new employee should expect it to be just another company. Keep an open mind if you apply for a job there. It can be a very seedy place to work in some departments and bases. I am a corporate type employee and grew tired of the horrendous unearthly harrassment (I was afraid to work there). I feel for the passenger spoke of in this article. I treated my passengers and employees better than I could treat myself. I arrived actually dizzy sick a number of occasions ready to work. I “luv”ed my job. I wished the culture had been as advertised. The company is just getting bigger. Good luck to you, and if you do have a “heart” and “spirit”, please Southwest Airlines, give your employees a break and do what is right (just enforce the existing rules and think out of the box to help your passengers – it could still be the greatest little airline if you give a chance). I still have my Southwest Spirit, but I’ve had it all of my life.