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Director booted off plane for being too fat

February 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Movie director Kevin Smith is slamming Southwest Airlines after he was kicked off a plane for being too fat to fly in a single seat. Southwest has apologized, but the incident has generated a huge online debate.Smith blasted Southwest Airllines on Twitter and in a podcast on Sunday night.

The writer-director was flying out of Oakland Sunday. He was flying standby on a Southwest flight when the pilot ejected him, saying he didn't fit properly into a single seat.

Smith boarded the plane, and then was ordered off the plane, which is when Smith's tweets started flying.

"Look, I'm fat. I'll be the first to tell you I'm fat, but I ain't that fat yet where I've got to buy two seats to fly on Southwestern, you know what I'm saying? For fat people, there's a bar, and I haven't hit that bar yet," Smith said in his podcast.

"There are terrorists that get on ... planes. And I get asked to get off?" said Smith.

Smith says he was able to put both armrests down and buckle his seatbelt, but was removed from the flight anyway. Smith says he usually buys two seats, not because he's too fat to fit in one, but because he doesn't like sitting next to anyone else. He couldn't in this case because he was flying standby.

Smith said the airline offered him a voucher for a LUV Program.

"'Love!' You just booted me off a plane 'cause I was too fat, yet I'm not," Smith fired back in his podcast.

In a written statement addressed to "Not So Silent Bob," the airline said: "As soon as we saw the first tweet from Mr. Smith, we contacted him personally to apologize for his experience and to address his concerns on both Twitter and with a personal phone call. The policy requires passengers that can not fit safely and comfortably in one seat to purchase an additional seat while traveling. The spirit of this policy is based solely on customer comfort and safety."

Smith's credits include "Clerks," "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy" and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." Smith plays the character Silent Bob.

Smith addressed Southwest in a tweet, saying, "You messed with the wrong sedentary processed-food eater."

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance is calling for a Southwest boycott, urging "people of size seek out and travel airlines that do not have such discriminatory policies."

It's turned into what could be a national debate on a very sensitive subject: Whether those who are "plus-size" should be made to buy an extra ticket.

"I'm hoping that we can start having some kind of civil public discourse surrounding this, without a bunch of name-calling, and without a bunch of scapegoating," said Lesleigh Owen, president, L.A. Chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance.

Owen says her organization has fought against what she says are discriminatory policies that target the overweight.

"I think this is a great time for us to talk about the airlines and how they should start meeting the needs of a really diverse population," said Owen.

"The average airline seat is about 17 inches wide, and American 'booties' aren't on average 17 inches wide, so just about everyone is uncomfortable," said Owen.

On his Twitter page Monday, Smith said: "Regardless of how frequently I've purchased a spare seat in the past, the real story is: I fit not only their criteria, but also the seat. And in doing so, in meeting @SouthwestAir requirements, why then was I still ejected?"

Some travelers at Burbank's Bob Hope Airport were siding with Smith.

"They had that opportunity to tell him that before they let him on, before they ever gave him the opportunity to get on the airplane," said Wade Nash, a traveler at the airport. "So once again, it's not his fault. It's the airline's fault."

"It was the airline [that was] wrong, because I also heard that as he was leaving, there was another gentleman that was overweight also," said traveler Lance Jackson. "You know, listen, I guess they have to have the rules and stuff like that, but if they're going to enforce the rules, they should do it across the board."

Statement from Southwest Airlines
"Many of you reached out to us via Twitter last night and today regarding a situation a Customer Twittered about that occurred on a Southwest flight. It is not our customary method of Customer Relations to be so public in how we work through these situations, but with so many people involved in the occurrence, you also should be involved in the solution. First and foremost, to Mr. Smith; we would like to echo our Tweets and again offer our heartfelt apologies to you. We are sincerely sorry for your travel experience on Southwest Airlines.

"As soon as we saw the first Tweet from Mr. Smith, we contacted him personally to apologize for his experience and to address his concerns on both Twitter and with a personal phone call. Since the situation has received a lot of public attention, we'd like to take the opportunity to address a few of the specifics here as well.

"Mr. Smith originally purchased two Southwest seats on a flight from Oakland to Burbank - as he's been known to do when traveling on Southwest. He decided to change his plans and board an earlier flight to Burbank, which technically means flying standby. As you may know, airlines are not able to clear standby passengers until all Customers are boarded. When the time came to board Mr. Smith, we had only a single seat available for him to occupy. Our pilots are responsible for the Safety and comfort of all Customers on the aircraft and therefore, made the determination that Mr. Smith needed more than one seat to complete his flight. Our Employees explained why the decision was made, accommodated Mr. Smith on a later flight, and issued him a $100 Southwest travel voucher for his inconvenience.

"You've read about these situations before. Southwest instituted our Customer of Size policy more than 25 years ago. The policy requires passengers that can not fit safely and comfortably in one seat to purchase an additional seat while traveling. This policy is not unique to Southwest Airlines and it is not a revenue generator. Most, if not all, carriers have similar policies, but unique to Southwest is the refunding of the second seat purchased (if the flight does not oversell) which is greater than any revenue made. The spirit of this policy is based solely on Customer comfort and Safety. As a Company committed to serving our Customers in Safety and comfort, we feel the definitive boundary between seats is the armrest. If a Customer cannot comfortably lower the armrest and infringes on a portion of another seat, a Customer seated adjacent would be very uncomfortable and a timely exit from the aircraft in the event of an emergency might be compromised if we allow a cramped, restricted seating arrangement."