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Mar 31 2008

Airline Customer Disservice

Before a recent trip to California, my girlfriend and I looked around for a decent airfare. Usually this process is pretty painless, and this time was no exception. Southwest was running a fare sale and we decided to partake of their generous offer. The way gasoline prices and the general cost of travel are skyrocketing these days, we’ll definitely take what we can get.

I had heard in the past some comments from others about the fact that Southwest has made it very clear they have a problem with overweight individuals. I’ll call us Fat Fliers. It didn’t take long for the agent at the ticket counter to start making a scene about the fact that we are, clearly to her, Fat Fliers. We were greeted amiably enough, had our bags weighed and our IDs checked–pretty standard stuff. And then it began. We were first told that due to our weight and Southwest Airlines policy, we were required to purchase an extra ticket each because we could not fit into a standard airline seat.

Now, I know that I’m overweight. I am also a frequent traveler. Because of this, I know that I’m not SO overweight that I can’t fit into an airline seat. So I got obstinate. I made it clear that I was a frequent flier and that I knew without question that I could fit into an airline seat. The same is true of my girlfriend. At this point, the agent relented somewhat, though she told us that more than likely the gate agent would give us the same spiel about having to purchase extra seats. I asked her, “I’ve been told this flight is already full. What happens if we wind up purchasing these extra seats?” Her reply was that the gate agent would request passengers to re-schedule their flights and if no one did so voluntarily, two folks would be unsuspectingly bumped. I found it hard to believe their corporate policy would perpetrate a further disservice by kicking two innocent bystanders off a perfectly good airplane. I suppose if anyone deserved that fate, it would be we, the Fat Fliers. But so far, no matter how narrow the aircraft builders have tried to make the cattle-car seats on these modern aircraft, we can still sit in them reasonably.

We also found it ironic that several of the other patrons on the plane sitting within earshot were complaining about the small size of the seats. These are people who are less than six feet tall and under 250 pounds. If a “normal” person is complaining about an airline seat, I’m not sure overweight people are the problem.

Near the end of our conversation with the ticket agent, she told us that “most airlines” were “adopting a similar policy.” Well, I’ve flown twice since on different airlines and no agent of either one made any comments about our weight, height or anything else for that matter. In fact, American and Midwest were both extremely friendly and extremely accomodating.

We’ve got another trip on American coming up, and I’m definitely going to take notes. Airline travel has become a problematic affair for customers and airlines alike. I suggest that Southwest take another look at their corporate policy and bring their customer service up to par with the other major airlines. I realize that everyone is cutting expenses, slashing budgets and doing whatever they can to provide as much service as possible for as little overhead as possible. That’s no excuse for leaving sanity behind and publicly harassing paying customers. For now, we’ll simply travel with those that treat us best, even if it costs us a little more.

1 comment

  1. Kent

    I hope that anyone who is forced to pay two airfares actually gets two seats (side-by-side, of course!), and demands not only twice the cabin service, but also twice the baggage allowance.

    Mention that to the airline agent if it ever happens to you again, Russ!

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