Kenlie v. Southwest Airlines
Kenlie Tiggeman made national headlines last year when she was told by Southwest Airlines in April 2011 that she was “too fat to fly.” After the gate agent singled her out, he asked her how much she weighed and what size clothes she wore. When inquired about weight limits and the policy, the gate agents were unaware of any weight limits and/or size requirements. She was asked to purchase a second seat at full price though it the last connecting flight on her trip.
Kenlie, who is morbidly obese, had lost 100 pounds before the April incident. Following the first negative encounter, she flew on Southwest twice without incident after accepting an apology from a representative from Southwest’s headquarters. The representative contacted her after reading her blog, www.alltheweigh.com. He assured her that she would not be treated poorly again, but after flying twice without incident she was told to buy a second seat on a Southwest flight again in November 2011 when the gate agent said “Well, look at you, obviously you need two seats.”
While Kenlie does not advocate obesity she believes that passengers, regardless of size, have a right to understand the rules clearly at the point of purchase. She has gone on the record with media outlets around the world (including The Today Show, ABC News Nightline, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, HLN, The Daily Mail, etc.) expressing that she is not asking for special treatment of obese passengers; she’s asking for equal treatment.
Kenlie made a decision to file a lawsuit against Southwest Pro Se (on her own) after the second incident, and the lawsuit describes her run-in with Southwest Airlines’ Customer of Size Policy.
Tiggeman is now represented by the Indianapolis law firm of Panico & Maebry. With the help of the law firm, Kenlie hopes to put an end to size profiling that is currently allowed by Southwest Airlines.
Kenlie, who flies frequently, currently weighs approximately 280 pounds. When she weighed between 325 and 400 pounds, she purchased an additional seat when flying. Though she has not yet reached her goal, she does fit in the seat with the armrest down. She does not encroach on the neighboring space, nor does she believe that people of size should encroach on the neighboring space.
Tiggeman understands that obesity is a serious health issue, and she is fighting and winning that battle in her own life. She exercises an average of 5 times a week, and she is currently training to complete a triathlon. She is confident that her size will not always be an issue in her life, but in her attempt to stand against the injustice she has faced, she is also fighting for millions of people who are currently affected by obesity in this country. She believes that obesity discrimination is wrong, especially size profiling that is allowed by the airline.
Southwest’s “Customer of Size” policy states: If a passenger does not fit between the 17-inch space between the armrests, they must purchase an additional seat. Passengers who are unable to lower both armrests or who encroach on the adjacent seat are considered to not fit. Last year, Kenlie offered to prove that to the Southwest employees, but the employees refused.
After her story was circulated, she said she received thousands of emails from people who had similar confrontations with the airline about their size. “I’ve received countless messages from people who have had similar experiences with Southwest and even more from people who fear experiencing something similar” she said. “I filed this lawsuit because I have learned through my own journey that change starts with me, and I believe that it is my responsibility to fight for what I know is right.”
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