Right Or Wrong? Southwest Sued Over Obese Passenger Policy

7 May

This headline on ABC News – ‘Too Fat To Fly’ Passenger Sues Southwest Airlines For ‘Discriminatory Actions’ - caught my eye, since I’ve blogged several times (here and here).  For my newer readers, I am a woman of size – rubenesque, as it were — but I can still fit in one seat. So I understand the sensibilities on both sides.

I happen to agree with — and appreciate — Southwest Airlines’ policy of how it deals with passengers of size.  But I also see the point of Kenlie Tiggeman, the overweight passenger who was originally judged too fat to fly, who filed the lawsuit.

The problem with the Southwest policy, as Tiggeman (and I) sees it, is the inconsistency in how it is administered.  I’m all for having a row of seats at the end of a ticket counter placed behind a screen if an agent feels someone might not fit into their seat. The issue is that as humans, we all have our own views and prejudices.  I’m betting that if you put Tiggeman in front of 10 different gate agents or even 10 different travelers and asked if she was “too fat to fly,” you’d get myriad different answers.

A few years ago, my daughter and I were flying Southwest home from San Antonio on a full flight.  She was still using her SkyMall stroller/car seat. She was at the window (she can’t block a passenger in) and I was in the middle seat.  A man “of size” came to sit in the aisle seat. I knew it was going to be a tight fit — and it was.

Several flight attendants came by and looked at him, but didn’t say a word. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to be rude. I should have. That was the longest 3.5 hour flight of my life.  A passenger who has paid for a seat should not be forced to have a passenger of size taking up their space.

So my wish is that before this goes to court, Tiggeman and Southwest Airlines come up with  a plan that balances the needs of passengers of size to have a consistent second-seat policy with the rights of “normal” sized passengers who deserve to have their own whole seat.

So, what do you think? Is Tiggeman right to sue Southwest Airlines? Do you think Southwest Airlines’ Customer of Size policy?  Tell me!!

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9 Responses to “Right Or Wrong? Southwest Sued Over Obese Passenger Policy”

  1. highdefhusband May 7, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    This is such a tough topic. What about those of us who are really tall and need a little extra arm rest space? Why is it that the guy next to me – who’s only 5’8″ – can jam his elbows into me simply because he needs to stake claim to his space?

    I applaud SWA for taking this matter head on; then again, I also appreciate Kenlie’s charge. What I don’t like about this debate – especially from the ABC piece – is the stance “skinny” people take in assuming that their space is their space. Just like Meme Roth claims obese people don’t have to fly if they don’t like the policy…the road will welcome you, just the same.

    • Aviation Queen May 7, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      Thanks as always for adding a voice of reason. It is a tough topic.

  2. Kinny Cheng May 7, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    I’d say let this go to court and have its day.

    Whether it’s the inconsistent policies of Southwest, or Tiggeman’s argument of how the airline should deal with such a situation, there will never be an absolute response.

    But we need to start somewhere.

    • Aviation Queen May 7, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

      I actually hope the parties can work it out before going to court. The system does have a tendency to split the baby, leaving no one happy.

      • Kinny Cheng May 7, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

        Of course, that would most certainly be the most desirable outcome. At the same time, I hope that it will be a good decision, one worthy of becoming a precedence.

  3. John May 7, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    Being a big guy myself, I feel your pain. I think the biggest problem that all airlines need to solve is the consistent application of any of their cabin rules, whether it be in regards to persons of size or any other issue. Of course my next problem is that if you have three seats, there are NOT three PAIRS of armrests. So how do you decide who is taking up someone else’s space? Are we going to begin assigning armrests? Perhaps if airlines create a reasonably sized seat, we can all get along in flight.

  4. Chris Fotos May 7, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Definitely a tough one. I’m on the other end of this spectrum–at 5′ 6″ and around 145 pounds, way down the curve on average-American-male stature. Unfortunately for me in a lot of cases, very big people (exceptionally tall as well as overweight) make a beeline to sit next to me since they see more space. I end up feeling smothered as they overflow into my column. I don’t know the answer…. Only 5′ 8″! I wish!

    • Aviation Queen May 7, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

      This is my point, Chris. You have a right to have the whole seat you paid for. If there were consistency in how to determine people of size, you wouldn’t be in a dilemma not of your own making. There’s got to be a better way!


  1. How is Southwest performed in Domestic Airlines industry? | I-Hui's Blog - May 7, 2012

    [...] Right Or Wrong? Southwest Sued Over Obese Passenger Policy (aviationqueen.wordpress.com) [...]

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