Why Kevin Smith’s Problem is My Problem Too

Next month I’ll be taking what I hope is my last flight on Southwest Airlines. By now most people have heard about filmmaker Kevin Smith and how he was kicked off a recent Southwest flight because of his weight.

At first glance, this seems to be a clear-cut issue: if a person’s size extends beyond the parameters of their seat, then they should purchase a second seat to accommodate them. Southwest states clearly that the definitive question is whether or not the armrests can be fully lowered. Seems fair.

But then it gets a little dicey. . .

You see, despite saying that the armrests are the “definitive gauge,” they go on to say that they should always question cramped, unsafe seating arrangements even if the person in question is able to put down the arm rests.

And that’s where the problem is.

Where is the line drawn? Clearly Southwest thinks the line can be drawn as they see fit. That is their right, but as the mother of a disabled person, I begin to wonder.

Will my child’s wheelchair be a problem for someone one day? Will his drool make someone uncomfortable? The comfort of other passengers was one of the stated reasons for ejecting Kevin Smith from his flight. Will my son’s lack of mobility create “unsafe seating arrangements?” Where is the line drawn? Unfortunately, with Southwest Airlines, it’s unclear and that is where I take issue. Can these same policies be applied to the elderly? Might they pose a “safety risk” with their slow gait?

My issue is not with the policy. Companies have the right to whatever policies they like. My issue is with the enforcement. I prefer to know in advance if I’m going to have any complications. Flying is hard enough without added hassle and stress. For me, Southwest has just become an unsafe bet. If they can’t be trusted to stick to their own guidelines, then I’ll have to fly with someone else. They can do what they like, but they’ll be doing it without me until I feel confident that their policies aren’t subject to the whims of flight attendants.

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  1. That's a really thoughtful take on the whole Kevin Smith mess. I was appalled he'd gotten kicked off. But policy is often totally subjective, as you note, and he just had the bad luck of meeting up with a hardcore flight attendant. He probably would have fared differently on another Southwest flight. So personally, I'd keep an eye on them, but not write them off. It doesn't seem like a lot of other overweight people have come out of the woodwork to complain about Southwest since this incident erupted.

  2. HMMM, I hadn't even heard about this event! That is kind of freaky, Katy! Faith has never flown so I don't know what we would do. I would probably be kicked off the plane for "crazy mother" syndrome if they gave us a hard time!

  3. This reminds me of a bar exam question. I would say that an airline that refuses to allow a passenger to ride, based on physical disability, is at a major risk of a lawsuit based on discrimination. There is an Air Carrier Access Act that "prohibits discrimination in air transportation by domestic and foreign air carriers against qualified individuals with physical or mental impairments." Also, this website allows you to look over the rules and regulations that bind the airlines, and allows you to make a complaint. http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/

    But the main point is that an airline will face a heavy burden in a civil suit, if the allegation is that they discriminated based on physical disability.

    On the other hand, there is no case, that I know of, that has allowed an individual to prevail in a discrimination suit based on being overweight.

    A court will likely hold that a disability is an immutable characteristic-you cannot change it, you did not choose it, you were born with it. While obesity, a majority of the time, is a lifestyle choice.

  4. Ahhh, I suspect that is a family member. It's not really about the policy–it's that the companies policies are arbitrarily implemented. And also, the way that the situation was handled when it occured. Even when I traveled with Charlie to Montreal, each location had a different series of standards for allowing him to bypass the metal detectors. I'm just looking for a little congruency.

  5. I heard he had purchased two seats in the past, but was put on standby and then was put into one seat for the standby flight. So, he had reason to believe that one seat was fine for him.

    I'd love to sit next to Kevin Smith. Oh, all the fun I would have discussing Mall Rats and Dogma!

    I hadn't thought of "comfort" carrying over to wheel chairs and drool.

    I can't stand airlines politics. The TSA,the airline employees, the nickle and diming. How rules are applied sometimes and not others. How I have to make it a point to print out TSA guidelines regarding breastmilk, breast pump equipment, baby food, etc., because those people haven't been properly trained.

    I can only imagine the fun a parent with a special needs child would experience. (Did you hear about the kid that had to take his leg braces off and then WALK through the metal detector???)

    So, umm, that's that.

  6. I hadn't heard about this and didn't really know who Kevin Smith is so I googled him and there were loads of photos of him with celebrities. He doesn't actually look all that big! I've sat next to people much bigger than him on flights before and they were fine. It would be nice if they have a better policy – like they do with carry ons must fit in this size – to make it easier for people to know what to expect before getting on the flights! This way seems soooooo arbitrary!

  7. You raise several good points. Surely Kevin Smith is not the fattest man to ever step foot on a Southwest Airplane.

  8. Hello, I'm a lurker 😉

    I believe that as a disabled person, Charlie would be protected because of the ADA laws that are in place. I'm pretty sure that obesity is not covered as a disability, unless perhaps it's very morbid obesity that prevents you from walking.

    I have a friend who has a 20-something-y/o son who has an extraordinarily rare, long-worded syndrome whose name I don't recall. Because of it, "Jeff" is developmentally delayed, low tone, drooly and can't speak (but grunts well. And LOUDLY) but is VERY friendly and has a tendency to try to touch people. He and his parents have traveled to Europe and Asia multiple times without a problem.

    Charlie is adorable, BTW.

  9. Katy,
    I get your point. I had the same take on it that you did. There does seem to be a lack of consistency in interpretation of airline policies among most airline staff, just from my experience. One person allows a bag through for overhead. Another says it won't work once you're on the plane. Frustrating. As a chunky butt myself, I would be big time embarrassed if I was thrown off a flight for being too fat. Of course, I am not yet large enough to spill out of the seat or anything. I could stand to lose a good 30 pounds though. What if someone just didn't feel "comfortable" sitting next to my fat butt? Could they just elect to ask me to get off the plane (even though the armrests do fit around my girth) because the person next to me doesn't want to sit next to the chunky chic?? Granted, Americans need to lose some weight, but that doesn't look like it is going to happen overnight or in the near future. It's a growing problem. I get the policy about the armrests, like you do. It makes good sense. You raise an interesting point though. I agree with you that I, too, would like someone to just tell me upfront that I am in someone breaking a rule in whatever way that might be so I don't have to be embarrassed or stressed out because of my weight or whatever the case may be. As someone else pointed out–surely, Kevin Smith was not the fattest man to have ever flown the friendly skies. Or, are those friendly skies with another airline? Humm?

    At any rate, I guess this is motivation to keep up with my diet and stop my snacking, huh??

  10. Hey, you know that I am the fat chick. I do buy the extra ticket, no matter the airline that we fly, and trust me, Southworst will never be one of them.

    My problem with the Keving Smith thing, is that he had access to two tickets that he already bought. He chose not to get the other ticket.

    Then he decided he wanted to go on a standby on an earlier flight. Standby is just that, what is left after all scheduled passengers have boarded and have been seated. He took his chances and came up on the losing end of that one.

    I must be of the minority that he took his chances and is really playing the fat card because he made a choice that didn't pan out for him.

    I don't think that there is an airline out there that can discriminate about a wheelchair bound person. But I do think that you should talk to a rep before your flight, so that the arrangements are made for boarding and locking down safely of the wheelchair.

  11. i loved your thoughts on this.


  12. What cracks me up about this whole situation is that the airlines made the seats smaller to accomodate more revenue paying passengers. They were trying to goose up their revenue stream. The seats used to be 22 inches wide, now they're only 18. They're designed to be uncomfortable for the average behind (to say nothing of the leg room that doesn't exist)! That way, the people who can afford it will pay double for business/first class, thereby increasing profits.

    When I was very young, I went on the now defunct EASTERN AIRLINES, and we were in coach. The seats were HUGE, at least to my eyes. Of course, back then, before deregulation, air travel wasn't very cheap either.

    I think the airlines should make a seat that accomodates the average American ass. And, facts are facts, the average American ass cannot fit easily into an eighteen inch wide seat for any amount of time.

    If they discover that obesity is caused by a virus, and is, for all intents and purposes, a disease, a lot of people will have room to sue–if the airlines don't get the spirit and make room on the plane.

    I don't travel much, if at all. I guess I'm not missing much, given that my fat ass would probably not be too happy in those seats!