Southwest and their vague and discriminatory “Customer of Size” policy is old news around here, but I have some new things to say after a flight I took last week.
According Southwest, the scale cannot tell me if I’m too fat to fly. That would be discriminatory. Instead, they allow their ticketing agents to do it. And it seems they prefer not to discriminate until you’ve paid for your seat and arrived at the gate! At that point, they seem content to allow their gate agents to eyeball fat people and single them out in front of other passengers. Somehow, this practice is widely acceptable at Southwest. We see it in the news constantly! And I’ve experienced it…again.
I realize that flying via Southwest after what happened earlier this year makes me foolish, but after being urged by a representative from Southwest’s HQ who contacted me after my original blog post, I agreed to give them another chance. And I did. After taking countless trips on JetBlue as well as flights on American Airlines and even utilizing two seats on a smaller US Airways commuter flight, I took a chance and flew with Southwest again. I flew from New Orleans to LA to workout with Richard Simmons, and I also flew from Baltimore to New Orleans without questions/harassment by Southwest employees. Is it part of their policy to treat overweight passengers with respect only when cameras are rolling? That’s certainly what it looks like to me.
Last week I decided to join my mom on a flight to my sister’s house using my free pass courtesy of Southwest. And while I felt some anxiety about doing it, I made the decision to fly with her, telling myself that this would be a different flight. I would not have to face public humiliation again. My bad….just call me naive.
When the woman at the check-in counter began explaining that I would not be able to fly today (in front of everyone at the gate) I firmly suggested that she move the conversation about my size to a private area. She refused to move the conversation to a private area and proceeded to explain that from her view ( “Well, look at you.” Really? Okay…) I’d have to purchase an additional seat at full market value or not fly.
After a few moments that felt much longer to me as I revisited the hurt and anger already caused by SW, she called a supervisor who moved the conversation to a different kiosk – a different kiosk…still in front of everyone in the check-in line. Clearly, the folks at Southwest Airlines do not understand the definition of the word “private.” Of course, if you watch the news, that probably doesn’t surprise you. When the conversation with the supervising agent commenced, she looked me up and down and said that I’d need to purchase an extra seat and that they’d refund the money at some point later if the flight was not overbooked. (Yeah, I know that’s part of their “Customer of Size” policy. I’m quite familiar with it at this point.)
Standing there in front of hundreds of people, once again I was experiencing feelings of anger, embarrassment and resentment toward an airline that has already caused an incredible amount of anxiety and mental anguish for me personally. Forgetting that their representative told me that it would not be necessary to purchase a second seat on future flights, and forgetting that he said he’d personally book me on another airline if I had additional problems flying with SW, all I wanted to do was fold and take an extra seat. It was about 5am…and if you know me, you know that I’m not a fan of early mornings and/or confrontation. I prefer to deal with the folks that can actually make changes as opposed to the folks at the gate.
My biggest problem with Southwest now is not that I was humiliated once again, though I was….Being told to look at myself in front of everyone at the check-in desk only enhanced my feelings of failure and embarrassment while giving a lot of strangers the opportunity to agree that I don’t deserve even a modicum of respect, is unacceptable.
My biggest problems with Southwest now is their lack of respect, sensitivity and consistency. Should I wear Spanx when I travel? Seriously…As someone who fills my seat, but doesn’t spill into the seat next to me, I want to know what I have to do to see some consistency when I travel. The short answer, I know, is to fly with another airline, and I will. But that doesn’t help the 30% of Americans who are overweight – some of whom will find themselves in my situation at this airline.
Southwest’s “Customer of Size” policy needs to change. Southwest’s employees need to go through sensitivity training just as the representative from their headquarters said they would. Why do I feel like that was just lip service? Read their broken policy then ask yourself… Why did they ignore my request to speak about this in private? Why was I denied the opportunity to prove that I could fit into one seat with the arm rests down after offering to do so? What did I do to piss these people off? (That’s rhetorical, of course.)
Once I arrived in Colorado, I received a message from Southwest. Here’s an excerpt:
“Moving forward, when flying with Southwest Airlines and falling under our Customer of Size policy, we will require the purchase of a second seat for travel. If a second seat has not been purchased prior to day of travel, you will likely be asked to do so at the ticket counter or gate.”
Who decided that I fall under their Customer of Size policy now? And why did they decide now as opposed to May when I weighed a bit more than I did at this time? And why didn’t they decide that the man next to me (who was a few inches taller and noticeably rounder) needed an additional seat? How is it that I could fly from New Orleans to LA on Southwest without embarrassing issues and from Baltimore to New Orleans as well? Why is it only an issue sometimes?
I should also note that on my return flight, Southwest booked an additional seat for me. And at check-in, they could’t figure out how to combine the seats to create one boarding pass so after 20 minutes or so, they gave me two boarding passes. The SW agent at the ticket counter told me “not to confuse TSA by showing them two boarding passes,” but I did because I didn’t want any issues to arise at the gate. The TSA agent said “Which seat will you be using?” And my response was “I don’t know. Southwest just requires that I have two on this flight.” The agent said “Why?” I said “because I’m so fat.” She looked me up and down and said “that’s weird…ridiculous. hang in there.” She thought it was ridiculous that Southwest required me to have a second seat which made me feel good because she sees as many passengers as they do.
The bottom line is that I’m tired of showing up at the airport and being humiliated. All I want to do is fly. All I want is some consistency. I do not want to pay full market value for a ticket two days before Thanksgiving because one agent thinks I need to while another does not.
I will not fly with Southwest again. I gave them another chance (a few chances actually) and they have proven that they don’t want my business. They do not want the business of overweight passengers (unless, of course, you’re willing to pay for an extra seat or two – or you’re a minority.) I am not going to pay for an extra seat every time I fly because Southwest sometimes hires fat-phobic employees.
And one more thing…I took a lot of flack for making a similar point last time, but I have to do it again because it bears evidence of their discriminatory policy. The man checking in at the kiosk next to me was taller and clearly more robust than I. He was also a minority. Is that why his gate agent didn’t tell him that he couldn’t fly today? Or is it because, in the eyes of that particular agent, someone his size (someone taller and proportionately larger than I – in the hips and shoulder and stomach) wouldn’t require an extra seat? Am I being targeted because I’m a woman? Or because I was willing to stand up to Southwest after being discriminated against?
The reasons why don’t matter as much as the need for change. Southwest may never grant equal rights to equal access. They may never create a finite policy that defines their terms for those of us who may not need two seats any longer. But I’m going to do my best to see to it that they do because I deserve it…and there are thousands of other consumers and would-be consumers who deserve it too.
This isn’t over Southwest…in fact, it’s just beginning.