Southwest To Liver Patient It Nearly Let Die: Sorry, Here's A Refund For That Extra Ticket

Update to, “Southwest Nearly Lets Liver Transplant Patient Die Because He Wouldn’t Buy 2nd Ticket.”

After the daughter Brandi wrote a formal complaint letter, Southwest Airlines promised to send Richard an apology, a refund for the extra ticket, and four ticket vouchers. However, It’s uncertain whether Richard will ever be able to use them. Writes Brandi…

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.

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.”

Good thing for Southwest that Richard didn’t go while getting denied boarding at the gate. Then they might have to give out five ticket vouchers. — BEN POPKEN

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  1. vannsant says:

    Last time I checked Southwest wasn’t responsible for his current condition. Right?

    It was hashed out in the last thread – Southwest messed up and tried to right it the best they could and the way they do to any other customer – issuing a refund and some sort of incentive.

    Also, if someone did pass away while waiting on a flight it certainly isn’t Southwest’s fault nor are they liable. Patients in immediate need of medical care are not to travel on airplanes, but instead call 911.

    C’mon, Ben. You’re way off here. Most stuff here is quality but your treatment of this story has been totally ignorant of the facts.

  2. shiny says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t that “extra ticket” paid for by “Becky,” a Southwest representative in Dallas who selflessly bought it out of her own pocket?

  3. Hoss says:

    I’m hoping Brandi keeps this static w Southwest in prospective as she deals with her father’s immediate needs for comfort and love.

  4. dantsea says:

    What else should Southwest do? Have a representative fall to the floor, wailing and gnashing his teeth while rending his company-issued uniform while offering an apology in a Noh-inspired operatic?

    Actually, now that I think about it… WAIT. No.

    Ben, since you seem to be dissatisfied with Southwest’s response, I’m guessing you have a good idea of what they should have done in the form of an apology. Since the ship has long since sailed on what they should have done to prevent this, what should they do now, to make amends to this customer?

  5. Ben Popken says:

    Southwest Airlines firing the ticket agent responsible and reconsidering its “you’re too fat, you have to buy an extra ticket” policy would be steps in the right direction.

  6. Falconfire says:

    Also, if someone did pass away while waiting on a flight it certainly isn’t Southwest’s fault nor are they liable. Patients in immediate need of medical care are not to travel on airplanes, but instead call 911.

    Medical needs patients who have to travel long distances almost ALWAYS have to fly commercial jets.

    Commercial airlines know this (as Southwest did from what we where told in the previous thread) and are required by law to make special preparations for these things. Southwest instead tried to balk the guy out of another seat.

  7. vannsant says:

    Falconfire, it still doesn’t make Southwest liable for the man’s illness or anyone’s death while waiting for a flight. Ben’s headlines are still misleading and ignorant of that point.

    Ben, have you ever sat next to someone for a three hour flight that didn’t fit in their seat? I suspect not. Airlines sell seats, so what do you expect them to do?

  8. Skeptic says:

    Falconfire says:

    Medical needs patients who have to travel long distances almost ALWAYS have to fly commercial jets.

    There is a difference between being a “medical patient” and being on death’s doorstep. Southwest is not an air ambulance service. His current condition is completely unrelated to his experience with Southwest. He made his flight and wasn’t delayed. They’ve made good on their insensitivity.

    I hope he gets better, but his poor health is unrelated to anything Southwest has done and you can stop picking on them with irrelevant details about this current condition.

    Ben writes:

    reconsidering its “you’re too fat, you have to buy an extra ticket” policy would be steps in the right direction.

    Why? Are you going to demand that 2XL sized clothes should cost the same as medium sized even though they take more than 2 twice the fabric and need more sewing and cost more to ship and store? Should prescription drug doses that are based on weight cost the same? Should surgery complicated by extra large size cost the same as a less complicated surgery on an average person? Can’t fit into a Geo Metro? How about a free upgrade and free gas for a larger car because you are plus sized? Oh, and free bigger furniture, too!

    You act like giving large people free seats subsidized by average sized people is an obvious right, yet larger people don’t expect those subsidies from other vendors and service providers. It is inconsistent to expect it from airlines. Perhaps a compromise of paying 1/2 price for a second seat would work–and yet such a system must be needs based because the airline can’t afford to give everyone that deal just because they might like some additional room.

  9. infinitysnake says:

    “Southwest Airlines firing the ticket agent responsible and reconsidering its “you’re too fat, you have to buy an extra ticket” policy would be steps in the right direction.”

    I’ve got to disagree- firing the person reposible for the POLICY would be a step in the right direction- but an unwitting peon who was simply doing what her employer told her to do? It’s too easy, and it le6ts the real villain go scott free.

  10. faust1200 says:

    I’m not usually one to go hippy on things but for f’s sake forget about laws and policies for a minute. The man is going to get a freakin organ transplant and there ARE seats available. Can you actually be- or afford to look like such a money grubbing scumbag that you won’t let him on without another ticket? Granted this overweight man should have known about this (i guess) but he didn’t. I don’t think he was trying to get something for nothing. Southwest is basically saying “I’m sorry you are dying but fatties need 2 tickets no exception – yeah even if the plane isn’t full” Southwest would do better to make a policy that discounts medical patients with extreme conditions. These people deserve more sympathy than those who receive bereavement fares imho.

  11. Ben Popken says:

    Vannsant, I expect them to not act with depraved indifference towards human suffering.

    The flight wasn’t full, if the comfort of other passengers was such a concern, Southwest could’ve rearranged people.

  12. Ben Popken says:

    Don’t forget that Southwest Airlines doesn’t have assigned seats. Passengers board by zones and choose their seats. They could have easily chosen not to sit next to Richard.

  13. Skeptic says:

    Ben writes:

    The flight wasn’t full, if the comfort of other passengers was such a concern, Southwest could’ve rearranged people.

    I’m not sure what you are writing this for! He got his extra seat. He made his flight. Southwest is apologizing for charging him. They are refunding the money and they are giving free flight vouchers as part of the apology. This is a rare exception that has nothing to do with a general policy of requiring ordinary-not-on-death’s-doorstep larger people to pay for the extra space they need on the plane.

  14. TechnoDestructo says:

    Isn’t someone dying of liver failure going to have pretty obvious symptoms? It’s not like it’s something you could easily fake. That’s the only reason Southwest was in the wrong.

    Even if it was stupidly applied in this case I very much like the fact that airlines have policies like this.

    Having been stuck between two people who couldn’t fit in their own seats before, I have little sympathy for those who would be asked to buy multiple tickets. Unless you’re paying for part of my seat, you don’t get to use it.

  15. vannsant says:


    Vannsant, I expect them to not act with depraved indifference towards human suffering.

    Yes and I couldn’t agree more. But go back and read your headline from this entry and the original. That’s my beef, Ben. You’re completely misrepresenting the entire story.

    No one in their right mind is defending the employees decision in this instance (although I agree with their extra seat policy) – not even Southwest, apparently, since they’re giving a refund plus more – but the health of the man never was in Southwest’s hands and nor should it be.

    To claim that Southwest almost let him die is delusional and I know you’re just trying to be catchy, but I think you’re being misleading.

  16. RapperMC says:

    There is an overarching theme to The Consumerist, I think, and that is that large companies have tried to cut so many corners in an effort to send as many of the dollars as it makes to its execs as possible that the people we come face-to-face with on a daily basis, those who actually represent the company, are brainwashed (generally speaking).

    The companies have decided its in their best interests to deal with the problems that are caused by clueless employees on a case-by-case basis rather than actually pay employees well enough to entice intelligent, free-thinking individuals to their organization.

    This is one of those cases. All the guy at the counter knows to do is refuse the free seat. He has been trained to hold out in order to get that extra seat’s price from us. Even in the face of medical letters, and seeing that this was an odd circumstance, Southwest’s employee refused.

    And so they have to settle with the vouchers and whatever other crap they pull out for the family. Southwest (and the man) suffered from having incompetent employees who can’t look another human in the face and realize that this is a person with a condition that needs to be dealt with on something other than a corporately-minded basis. He needed to be dealt with as an individual with an issue that Southwest should have come to the aid of. This sort of thought will always be inherent in companies that actually put money before the customer. Isn’t that what we are trying to learn more about on this website? Finding the companies that care about people instead of themselves?

  17. superbmtsub says:

    Vannsant. Kno what? Giving refunds will not change what happened at the gates in the airport. Nor does it mean that Southwest is legally liable for the patient’s condition. The employee who denied Richard is prolly going thru some trying times right now but he got what he deserved.

    Southwest does need to revise their current policies on clients requiring immediate medical attention. That msg needs to be passed down to all their employees.

  18. Joe Hass says:

    Ben:

    You raise two issues: the CoS policy, and the application of the policy. I’ll add a third: your choice of headline for both stories.

    First, the policy itself. Give WN credit: first, they have a policy, and second, they share what that policy is. When the first post hit earlier this week, I did a search for any other airline’s CoS rules. I couldn’t find one. The only one I could find was WN’s. You call it a “‘you’re too fat, you have to buy an extra ticket’ policy.” I prefer to call it a policy that ensures that I get the space I deserve.

    This seems like a corollary to the FL (AirTran) story that broke a day later about the family bumped from a flight because their three-year-old refused to sit down. In both cases, there’s a “how dare they,” knee-jerk response to the enforcement of a policy. But look a little closer: is it fair to the other 112 passengers who are further delayed because your child refuses to behave? Put yourself in the pilot’s shoes: he’s 15 minutes behind schedule, and he can’t take off because there’s a child who isn’t calming down. It’s inconceivable to ask the pilot to wait an indefinite period, delaying himself, his passengers, and anyone else downline simply because this kid isn’t following the rules (for whatever reason).

    Now let’s jump back to the WN story. The one fact I haven’t seen anywhere is the actual number of passengers on the flight (Ms. Brown never identifies anywhere in either posted communication what the number is; you said, “the flight wasn’t full,” but you don’t identify the source of that statement). But here’s a hypothetical: suppose I’m the last person to get on the plane, and it’s a truly full flight. There’s one open seat left, and it’s next to Mr. Brown, who has purchased one ticket but clearly is larger than that seat. Is it fair to me to have less than one seat? And your comment regarding “boarding in zones” is a red herring. We’re not talking about choosing to sit next to Mr. Brown (or any CoS); we’re talking about the possibility that someone *has* to.

    Next, let’s talk about the application of the policy. One of the struggles (from a management perspective) with any type of policy is the constant application of it. It’s hard to say you have a policy that requires a CoS to buy two seats if the person who has to apply the policy doesn’t.

    When I worked in retail management many moons ago, I would tell my subordinates that if they felt they needed to waive a policy to make a customer happy, I’d never object as long as they tell the customer that they’re waiving a policy. So, if we’d normally charge a customer 25 cents for a hand-placement of a copy, and we realize the customer wasn’t told that at the time the order was placed, and they show up expecting to pay 56 cents and face a bill of $2.56, we use this moment to explain that this is what the policy is, we’re sorry you weren’t aware of it, we’ll go ahead and waive it, but please be aware of it. Now, if an employee just dropped the fee and didn’t explain it, that would be grounds for some sort of discipline, simply because we’ve set up the next employee to have to deal with a customer who doesn’t know.

    You’re absolutely right that mindless application of a policy isn’t necessarily a good thing. But just because a policy isn’t applied correctly (or waived appropriately) doesn’t make the policy bad. It’s a teachable moment. I don’t think very many of us are saying how the gate agent handled this was a good thing. I believe my comment in the previous post was that I bet that person was fired, but I’d be just as content with this being a teachable moment.

    WN is legendary for bending the rules to do the right thing. They ain’t Wal-Mart. If this was a Verizon or an MBNA, I’d give you some level of benefit of the doubt. WN isn’t at that level. They’re not close to that level.

    You say you want the employee fired. Ben, you’re better than that. A comment like that just makes you sound like the next grumpy old woman who, when they don’t get what she wants, begs for blood. I’ve been in those situations from the manager’s perspective, and saying that brings to mind the old phrase about teaching a pig to sing.

    Finally, a couple other commenters in this thread have made mention of the extremely high shock level of the titles of both posts on this subject: “Southwest To Liver Patient It Nearly Let Die.” I don’t know Mr. Brown, or his condition beyond what you typed here. I don’t doubt that Mr. Brown is in less-than-great condition. But based on what you’ve written over the past few days on the topic, I’d say you’ve overstated what WN did to the point of being closer to the boundary of libel than a writer would like to be (note: I am not saying that the statement is or was libelous.)

    Bottom line: I like Consumerist. I think you’ve done a good job on a lot of things around here. I think you’ve gone out of bounds on this one, Ben.

  19. kellkell says:

    Joe Haas,

    I don’t want to sound ignorant, but I can’t figure out who WN is, is that the initials of a parent company for Southwest? And since I am showing mu ignorance already, what does CoS stand for? I can think of a number of things but none are applicable in this situation (Colorado Springs for one).
    Thanks

  20. Joe Hass says:

    Kellkell:

    WN is the two-character code for Southwest. Every airline in the world has a different 2-letter code, and while a lot of the legacy airlines in the U.S. have ones that make sense (NW=Northwest, AA=American), the more recent ones don’t (WN=Southwest, F9=Frontier, FL=AirTran). It’s usually used next to the flight number: WN930 means Southwest flight number 930. It’s my bad habit to use that instead of, say, something that makes sense to someone who’s not a flying geek.

    CoS is initials for “Customers of Size.” It’s the term Southwest (and others within the industry) uses for passengers who cannot sit in a single seat with the armrests fully down.

  21. Xkeeper says:

    Hopelessly pointing out that SouthWest isn’t at fault at this.

    He had gotten everywhere else just fine, had made prior arrangements, etc. One ticket counter person tried to play the extortion card on him, not the airlines. Hell, he was probably told to let him go with one ticket due to his condition and special needs.

    The customer service issue is probably more of a strange anomoly instead of a “We hate you, get off our lines” movement.

    Also pointing out that it doesn’t really matter — even if he was delayed a few more hours, he still would be coming home to the same thing — waiting for a liver transplant.

    The whole “almost let die” thing would be more relavant if it was a real medical emergency and time was almost out, but this was the return trip, not the first one.

    Try to keep that in mind, guys.

  22. kellkell says:

    Ahhh thanks Joe, makes much more sense now. :)

  23. nan says:

    Wow. Very well put, Joe. I couldn’t agree or say it better.

  24. BotchedJoke says:

    That is very sad about that man, but it is not Southwests fault that he chose to fly commercial for an urgent medical treatment. There are options through many hospitals where corporations lend out private jets to get sick people transport. I know this for a fact, I covered a story two years ago on this for the TV station I worked for. It is not difficult especially if the person has an urgent need. I beleive it was called Angel Flight. If anyone is ever in a situation like that, call any local hospitals ombudman or patient advocate and they will do everything they can to help. At least that is the case for Scripps Mercy Hospital here in San Diego. I hope that poor guy doesn’t have to suffer long…..

  25. Jesse in Japan says:

    Isn’t that the same compensation those parents who couldn’t control their kid got for being kicked off the plane? Oh, wait, they only got three ticket vouchers.

    Vannsant, I understand your point that he was not literally minutes away from death and his ordeal in the airport did not have an effect on whether he lives or dies. However, he was in the final stages of a terminal illness with maybe one or two weeks left to live. His only hope of survival was to go to San Francisco where he might be able to get a life-saving transplant.

    He already had a ticket which had been sold to him without incident, but the Southwest gate agent somehow got it in her mind that she could cheat a few extra hundred dollars out of this man because of his medical condition. He could not afford to pay them any more money, so he was denied service.

    Southwest’s customer support refused to do anything for him in spite of the extraordinary nature of the circumstances, until, out of the kindness of her heart, a Southwest agent decided to buy the ticket with her own money. Had this woman, acting on her own and not as an agent of Southwest, not done so, then Southwest would have gladly denied a dying man the chance to go to the only place where he might possibly receive medical treatment to save his life, thus ensuring his death in Scottsdale, though perhaps a week later.

    Had he died in Scottsdale, it wouldn’t have been Southwest that caused him to die, and he may still die nonetheless in San Francisco, but Southwest’s actions go beyond despicable in this case.

    By the way, Vannsant, do you work for them or something?

  26. Pelagius says:

    I wonder if the airline would have aas many staunch defenders if its name was “United” instead of “Southwest”?

    Overall, it’s a pretty sad commentary on our health care system that critically ill citizens need to depend on commercial airlines to get them to the hospital. What if your flight was delayed? Cancelled? Stuck in Denver in a snowstorm for five days?

  27. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    @ Pelagius

    Of course if this were United/AA/etc it would not have as many defenders. That’s because by and large, Southwest and its customer service are much, much better than the other airlines.

  28. Also, if someone did pass away while waiting on a flight it certainly isn’t Southwest’s fault nor are they liable.
    To claim that Southwest almost let him die is delusional…

    If I just stand and watch a man die of a heart attack I may not be liable for not helping him but I did let (as in allow, do nothing to prevent) him die. The liver patient may not have been seconds from death but he is dying and his family couldn’t send money. Who knows how long he would have been stranded had that woman not given him a second ticket?

    His current condition is completely unrelated to his experience with Southwest.

    His condition has everything to do with this: we wouldn’t be talking about it at all if he wasn’t seriously ill.

  29. lincolnparadox says:


    I think that both sides of this commentary are correct. Southwest has no liability in this case whatsoever. Even if this man died at their gates, begging to be let on the plane, their policy for “big people” is clearly stated. This guy could have called ahead and let them know that he was an organ transplant patient and that this flight meanth life-or-death. Even in a Civil Case, I see Southwest being found less than 30% liable.

    But, on the other side, in the Court of Public Opinion, Southwest almost let a guy die at their gate because his Hepatitis-swollen body couldn’t fit between two of their armrests. As his family begged for them to simply honor his ticket, and make some concession, his life slowly ticked away on the concourse.

    They’re not liable. But I’m sure this story won’t help ticket sales too much.

    Companies can change their policy anytime they like. We’re not talking about laws here. We’re talking about airline-customer agreements. The same way they bump kinda-famous or rich people up to first class for free (it happens), they could have made a concession for the dying guy.

    It’s compassion. It’s good business.

  30. Skeptic says:

    lincolnparadox says:

    “His current condition is completely unrelated to his experience with Southwest.”

    His condition has everything to do with this: we wouldn’t be talking about it at all if he wasn’t seriously ill.

    Um, actually no. You missed the part where it says current condition–you know, all the stuff about how sick he is now, which is heartbreaking but completely irrelevant since Southwest didn’t make him sick, or for that matter, sicker. He made his flight in spite of failing to book the two seats he needed to accommodate his size as part of Southwest’s clearly stated policy for larger people. He was not delayed. He was not made better or worse in spite of his being too sick to safely fly via a regular airline. His current condition is, therefore, completely un-related to his experience with Southwest.

  31. Deryn says:

    I’m late, but I want to echo the things that are being said here: Love Consumerist, love Southwest, I am a “customer of size” but don’t disagree with the policy because it makes sense and (I learned through this thread) they handle it tactfully.

    I also agree that the handling of this particular story is way overdone. I’m sorry for Richard and his family, but there are A LOT of transplant patients who don’t win the transplant lottery, no matter what lengths they go to, and I’m hoping (like Hossofcourse) the family doesn’t take their grief and frustration out on Southwest.

    This was a “win” in that Southwest addressed the specific issue, and I don’t think Consumerist should make them the bad guys. Just the one a-hole gate agent. I do wish we could get a comment on what happened to her.

  32. Deryn says:

    I mean that Southwest’s policy is to handle customers of size tactfully. Of course, they didn’t in Richard’s case.

  33. lincolnparadox says:

    Skeptic–

    Stop misquoting me. I never said that Southwest had anything to do with his illness. You’re quoting Rectilinear Propagation. If you’re going to disagree with me, at least try to disagree based on what I said.

    What I said was “airlines that mistreat dying people will lose business.” At least in the short term.

    Deryn–

    You’re right. This whole debacle is due to one hard-assed, policy-conscious, gate agent. I’m not saying that this story should reflect Southwest as a whole, or that Southwest is evil, or that their policies are bad (fuel economy is important).

    What I’m saying is: Southwest should fire that gate agent before she kills another transplant patient.

  34. Skeptic says:

    lincolnparadox writes:

    Stop misquoting me.

    Well, actually I quoted you exactly. I’m not sure how that that is “misquoting [you].” I note that you didn’t bother to quote my alleged “misquotation.”

    What I’m saying is: Southwest should fire that gate agent before she kills another transplant patient.

    Uhm. I’m not aware that the gate agent has killed any transplant patients, so I don’t knowhow she could possibly kill another one. Your writing is really quite inflamitory, IMO. Note that I am once again quoting you exactly. If you, once again, try to accuse me of “misquoting” it can only be because you don’t believe what you write, you write poorly or you change your mind once you’ve written something.

  35. Nekosohana says:

    I came here through the “vcents” video. Of course I found this thread at the top of the page. I only have a few comments and they will probably be the same as others, but I have to say my peace anyway.

    As a former Southwest employee, I am really offended that anyone would attack the airline for this. I am not arguing the medical need of the passenger, or the fact that he is currently on his deathbed. I read that thread too, and the reality is that when she wrote that letter she was not using his condition as a “pity token” she was sharing information with Ben abuot his current condition.

    Now then as I said, a former employee of Southwest, I loved the company. I left for career advancement reasons, and have no animosity towards Southwest. However, as my father always told me “People are still people, no matter what they wear.”

    This is a perfect example of the same lack of service that the Vcents video showed. It’s not that the company did something wrong, but the gate agent did something wrong. Not according to company policies, in that light they did something right. Southwest made the policy and it has been in place for over three years now. I personally consider it very fair, and understandable.

    Yet in a moral sense, you are correct, the passenger was not treated like a human being. This is where the real wrong was done. Southwest has always been known for being overly gracious for an airline. Yet mistakes will be made.

    As for response, what would the proper response be? Refund? Extra flight coupons? What should they give him? Tons of money? Maybe a million bucks? No, that’s silly. You have to divorce the fact that he was medically disabled from the fact that they provided a service, poorly.

    As for firing the agent? Are you serious? Yes, they did something humanly wrong, but they followed Southwest’s policy to a “T”. If any reprocussion should be made it would be to teach that person that there are extenuating circumstances. I wouldn’t even write them up if I was the supervisor in the place. Not because I didn’t work there but because they simply need to learn the difference between the letter and the spirit of the law.

    Honestly, someone mentioned it before but a Dallas agent bought the ticket with their own money. Let’s be clear on something. They TOP OUT at 40k a year (after over 20 years of service at Southwest). So buying an additional ticket may or may not be in their budget. So take it for what it is worth, but my opinion is that one person saw the letter of the law, and the other saw the spirit of it. No one here was at fault, and yet everybody lost in the deal.

    At least that’s my .002 cents… ;)

  36. magus_melchior says:

    @Skeptic:

    Well, actually I quoted you exactly. I’m not sure how that that is “misquoting [you].” I note that you didn’t bother to quote my alleged “misquotation.”

    Really? Let’s take a look:

    Rectilinear Propagation’s post had the text you were quoting in this post. Might wanna turn on Javascript for at least this site, the reply tool is pretty handy. You quoted him correctly the second time, but I wouldn’t be too proud of the first attempt.

    </pedant>