Southwest Suddenly Decides Frequent Flyer Is Too Big To Fly

This is reader Chip. He’s 6’1″ and says he flies twice a week for business, without incident, on Southwest Airlines. He is a self-described “big guy” but says he doesn’t have any problem sitting in an airplane seat — and doesn’t need a seat belt extender to do so. So, why did he suddenly get stopped at the gate and told he needed to buy a second ticket?

Chip writes:

I fly twice a week for business exclusively on Southwest Airlines. In the last year I have probably flown 50-60 times on Southwest. I am about as loyal a Southwest customer as could be expected.

So imagine my surprise last Monday when I went to board my 12:40pm flight from Las Vegas (where I live) to Omaha and was prevented from doing so an unruly the gate agent who thought just by looking at me, she could determine whether I was too big to fit in one seat and informed me that I needed to buy a 2nd ticket.

Now I am a big guy (6’1, a few extra pounds) but I’ve never been stopped, asked, suggested, or otherwise looked-at-funny that I should buy 2 seats, by Southwest or any other airline… so I initially shrugged it off as an honest mistake. But she wouldn’t budge! Nor would two of the supervisors who were called. They dug their heels in and I stood there arguing with them as my flight boarded and left without me. This was a business trip, so I ended up losing a day of work.

The worst part of the whole experience, when I told them I fly twice a week they didn’t believe me! I tried to get no less than four(4) Southwest staff to pull up my travel history, both to show them that I was a frequent traveler and my weight wasn’t an issue, and to show them I’m a LOYAL customer, but they wouldn’t do it. I was stunned at the lack of customer service.

The proverbial cherry on top of the whole ordeal was a backhanded apology by the final supervisor who said “he was sorry that I was never stopped before.” Now I was irate.

Defeated, I went home to reschedule my flight for the next day. I looked up their rules for ejecting “persons of size” and it turns out the true test for determining if someone is too big for one seat is the put them in the seat and see if the armrests go all the way down. These people didn’t even do that. They are clearly not allowed to just visually determine if someone is too big or not, that’s discrimination! Mind you, I didn’t get anywhere near the plane, this all happened at the top of the jetway where the tickets are collected.

It’s been one week and although I’ve sent this to Southwest executives, Southwest customer service, and Southwest’s twitter account, I have yet to receive any official response or apology from them other than the appalled customer service rep who’s job it is to constantly apologize to people like me. Would this be a good time to mention that their customer service line is constantly busy and the only time to get through to them is 7am in the morning?

I’m not looking for any free stuff, all I want are the two Southwest employees who denied me my flight (one gate agent, one supervisor) to be educated on what their policies actually are so this won’t happen again. As I said, I fly twice a week and I don’t want to be ejected again.

Thanks Consumerist. Keep fighting the good fight!

Chip also provided a blog entry where he details his communication with Southwest. A customer service rep has indeed apologized over the phone, but could not guarantee that Chip wouldn’t be randomly yanked from a flight in the future.

Here’s what he would like from the airline:

1. An official written apology/letter from Southwest management that I can carry with me so as to prevent this from happening again.
2. An acknowledgment that the gate agent and supervisor acted in the wrong.
3. That gate agent and supervisor are reprimanded or otherwise informed that they acted in the wrong, directed to the actual guidelines for “customers of size” so they will not arbitrarily yank someone off a flight again.

That’s all, no money, no free stuff, no lawsuit, no 6 o’clock news. Just an apology and some effort put into making sure this is not a repeat occurrence.

The policy as written is pretty clear, and Chip just wants it to be followed. That doesn’t sound like too much to ask from a guy who flies twice a week. What do you think?

Chip says his rebooked (single ticket) flight to Omaha progressed without incident.

Frequent Traveler is Too Fat to Fly on Southwest Airlines [Chip’s Blog]

UPDATE: This complaint has been resolved.

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