Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines

There has been quite a bit of press coverage about Kevin Smith’s experience while flying on southwest airlines. For those of you that are unaware of what happened:

kevinsmith_270x359Kevin Smith was asked to exit the aircraft after flight crew had deemed him to be too large to safely fly in one seat. This is in accordance to a “customer of size policy” implemented 25 years ago which requires said passengers to purchase a second seat when traveling to accommodate their larger size. The interesting nuance here is that Mr. Smith was aware of this policy and had purchased a second seat.

He was flying stand-by to get on an earlier flight which had only one seat available. When asked to exit the plane. Kevin Smith was obviously embarrassed and insulted. He immediately began expressing his feeling on his Twitter account. With over 1.5 million followers it wasn’t long before everyone was watching this situation unfold pretty much as it was happening.

Now there are several aspects to this story that probably warrant their own blog posts and perhaps I will spin back to touch on those at a later date. But I wanted touch on something in this post regarding the treatment of obese individuals during travel. There are two sides to this story and both have very valid arguments.

The “customers of size” are people with feelings who have paid to fly or ride on whatever means of transportation. They are not intentionally infringing on the space of fellow travelers nor do they choose to be a safety concern. Often they are willing to pay more for additional seating space to accommodate their size and adhere to the policy of the company they are traveling with. Do they not deserve to be treated better? If and when a situation arises that is caused by a violation or concern related to their weight or physical size should that situation not be handled with greater discretion?

On the other hand, put yourself in the seat next to the “customer of size”. Did that traveler not pay for the entire seat? Should that traveler be forced to be more uncomfortable then today’s air travel can already be?

What could be a better solution to this problem?

What if we simply charged people as if they were freight. I think most of us would agree that air travel today often feels like you are being treated as human cargo anyway. Why not use the same model for pricing. Instead of weighing your bags to determine if they qualify for penalty fees or charging for extra baggage, just have the traveler and their bags get on the scale and charge per pound. This would be a fairly easy equation to figure out. Airlines can simply set the per pound price they would need to charge to make their targeted profit on a given flight. The traveler would simply stand on the scale with their baggage. Total weight x price per pound = Ticket price. In this case if a “customer of size” takes up more space on the plane then a smaller traveler, well, they paid extra money to do so, and there would be no reason to treat that person with insensitivity after they had boarded. Of course, a thoughtful method of weighing us all with our baggage might have to be conjured up, to avoid casting unwanted attention on anyone at the ticket line. Lots of issues here: is our weight our own private matter, or does it become relevant when jet fuel costs more per pound and we plan to fly? Can a better way to accommodate larger people be found than simply yanking them off airplanes?

Logistically, speaking there are obvious issues that may occur from this suggestion, but what can we as travelers think of to make this situation better for all involved?

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Dr. Kent Sasse, Medical Director | 75 Pringle Way Suite 804 Reno, NV 89502 | Phone: 775-829-7999

Dr. Kent Sasse serves the entire city of Reno and all the surrounding areas. Dr. Sasse is one of the nation's foremost medical weight loss and bariatric surgical experts.
Dr. Sasse has educated patients about food nutrition and weight loss for many years.

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