Last night, shortly after posting about Southwest Airlines on my blog, I was contacted by them via twitter then e-mail. I was told that someone would call me first thing this morning, and that is, in fact, what happened. A supervisor (Mr. S) from HQ in Dallas called twice before reaching me late this afternoon.
In my head, I knew I had to go into the conversation with an open mind (and without shouting expletives to someone who would never understand) so I did that. I listened to what Mr. S had to say and spent the next 2 hours and 18 minutes trying to express the depth by which I was hurt, embarrassed and traumatized by Southwest Airlines.
It took some time, but by the end of the call I believe that Mr. S had expressed sincere empathy regarding the way that my mother and I had been treated. Is that enough? No…of course it’s not. Unfortunately, no one at Southwest Airlines can undo the damage they’ve done to my self-esteem, nor can anyone can erase the pain and humiliation so let’s talk about what they did do.
First, Mr. S said that he hoped to convey apologies on behalf of Southwest. He also admitted that mistakes were made when the gate agents/supervisor did not follow their policy, and he promised that they would take internal steps to fix it. Unfortunately, I have to take his word on that because he informed me that they’ll never be able to show proof of this due to privacy issues. He also said that he was unable to share what kind of steps they would take as a company and/or what kind of discipline the disrespectful employees would face. #fail
Secondly, he offered to refund Mom’s round-trip airfare as well as my airfare which included two Southwest flights that I had purchased individually. At least that’s something. We should never have to pay to be insulted. Living in large bodies means we can be mocked for free. #win
Third, he offered one “Green Pass” for Mom and one for me as well. A “Green Pass” is good for one round-trip flight from any city in which Southwest flies. And, to be clear, it is a confirmed seat as opposed to a stand-by ticket. But the big problem here is that I’m not comfortable giving Southwest the opportunity to humiliate me again so after discussing my trepidation in regards to flying on Southwest, you know, ever again, we came to an agreement.
Per our agreement, Mom and I will both receive two “Green Passes.” I requested it because I believe that if I’m willing to put myself at risk again then I should have the opportunity to enjoy an additional flight with less anxiety at a later date. Mr. S quickly agreed.
I also made him aware that if anything similar happens on my next flight (which will be in May when I travel to Fitbloggin’) I will call his office so he can book the next flight to Baltimore for me on a different airline. He gave me his direct number, and I can only hope that he took me seriously. And as much as I hope he did, I hope I don’t have to call him to find out!
So, in short, Mom and I both received a $200 Southwest voucher (which doesn’t cover government taxes so I had to pay $21.40 for my trip to Baltimore) as well as two “Green Passes” which are good for one year and a refund on our tickets for the flight from hell. I haven’t decided how I feel about this yet. Do you think Southwest compensated enough for humiliating Mom and me?
Now I want to talk about the “Customer of Size” policy that the gate agents were unable to share with me Sunday evening. There are rules in place for wide passengers, but there is no particular weight restriction. In short, a 7 ft. person can board an aircraft while cramming his knees into the seat in front of him, but he will not be asked to purchase an additional seat as long as his hips fit inside the 17 inches between the armrests.
Mr. S clearly explained that buying an additional seat has nothing to do with body weight, but rather body dimension. He used a 6’5″, 300 pound male as an example of someone who can comfortably fit his hips in the seat while a woman who is 5′ or so and weighs a little more than 200 pounds could struggle to fit her hips in the seat. For the record, I am 5’4″ and weigh about 270 pounds. And my hips do, in fact, fit within the 17 inches between the armrests.
He went on to share what they should have done which is to take us somewhere privately to ask if we had ever been approached about buying a second seat. And when I asked him how they would charge for an addition seat if needed (which it was not) he expressed another mistake made by the gate attendant and supervisor. He said that per Southwest’s policy, they cannot charge for an extra seat on a return flight. And this question, if asked, must be asked by the gate attendant at the city of origin. This means that if no one asks before you leave town then no one can make you pay on your way back into town. Good call on their part of though I have to say that the rest of the “Customer of Size” policy is biased and absurd. I can be as tall as I want. I just better not be fat. #fail
When I asked Mr. S how he would ensure that this would not happen if I fly on Southwest again, he stated honestly that he could not. He did, however, say that he believes that it won’t happen again. And he hopes that if I’m ever approached again that it will happen discreetly without overwhelming humiliation.
Over all, I think the conversation was fruitful though I don’t think they did enough to repair the damage that my mother and I are facing as a result of this public embarrassment. I received several e-mails, phone calls and messages today suggesting that I ask Southwest Airlines to sponsor me at Fitbloggin’ this year. When my father suggested it initially, I wasn’t interested in giving them any chances to use me to make themselves look better, but when others started to suggest the same thing I began wondering if I should pursue this or not. What’s few hundred bucks to them, right?
So, to those of you who took time to respond to my last post, let me ask you…What do you think? Is giving Southwest the opportunity to sponsor my trip to Fitbloggin’ – a health conference in Baltimore next month a good idea? And if they do sponsor me will it change your view on them as a company who doesn’t respect its overweight passengers?
As I stated at the beginning of this post, it is impossible to erase the humiliation, hurt and overwhelming damage to my self-esteem as a result of my travel experience with Southwest Airlines, but they did contact me today in an attempt to start repairing some of that damage. I wish I could tell you that everything is better and that my heart and mind no longer hurt, but they do. And I’m terrified to travel with Southwest next month, but I feel as though I have to face this fear just as I’ve faced many others over the last two years. So that’s my plan, and I will, of course, keep you posted.
So what do you think? Should I forgive and forget? Has Southwest done enough to compensate for our horrific flight experience? Should I ask them to sponsor me at Fitbloggin’?
I’m looking forward to hearing what you all have to say, and I want to thank each of you again for your unwavering support in this and always. I’m not sure what I’d do without you so, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
Wednesday afternoon update:
I posted a poll asking whether you thought I should ask Southwest to sponsor me at Fitbloggin’, and many of you responded via my blog, twitter and email. The response, when I closed the poll this morning, was pretty split so here’s my decision: There’s absolutely no way I’d let a company like Southwest sponsor me.
Some of you thought that it would go further to right the wrongs they made regarding Mom and me, and many of you passionately expressed that it would be an utter mismatch by a company who has shown little respect for Mom, me and the situation we faced Sunday night. And I agree with you.
Thanks for taking the time to share your opinion!