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Kevin Smith Spurs Debate on Overweight Passenger Policies

Kevin Smith’s ejection from a Southwest Airlines flight earlier this month has led to some heavy public debate over “Customer of Size” policies. The film director, who was asked to leave the aircraft because of his weight, stirred up a PR nightmare when he railed against the airline on his Twitter page–rejecting multiple apologies and an offer of a $100 flight voucher. Southwest claims that their actions are consistent with a 29-year policy dealing with heavy passengers.

As Americans continue to put on weight, issues surrounding overweight travelers are growing more heated. Organizations like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) have come into play to promote civil rights for the overweight, while airlines continue to argue that their policies ensure the safety and comfort of their passengers. With 15-16% of respondents to Travelocity’s Rudeness Poll pegging overweight flyers as their least favorite people to fly with, it looks like everyone has a finger to point.

How Do Airlines Decide Who’s “Too Fat?”

There’s no universal rule regarding overweight airline passengers, although many airlines have similar policies. Both United Airlines and Continental Airlines agree that passengers must (1) be able to properly buckle their seat belt using only one extender, (2) be able to put down the arm rests, and (3) fit into the seat without encroaching on adjacent seat space. Passengers unable to meet these requirements are generally asked to purchase a second seat. Southwest Airlines uses a similar method to determine the necessity of a second seat purchase, gauging size by the passenger’s ability to sit with the armrests down.

With the pot stirred and many people arguing for larger seats on aircrafts, it will be interesting to see whether airlines stick to their policies, or begin compensating for a growing American population. What do think should happen?


Picture from xvm via Flickr.


My name: Kate Beall

How I earn my keep: Writing for Travelocity.

Best meal I've ever had: There are three: the mofongo at Jimmy'z Kitchen in South Beach, the lomito completo at Fuente Alemana in Santiago, and (for the sheer novelty factor) the cuy chactado in Arequipa, Peru.

First thing I do in a new place: Hit the shower. Anything more than an hour in transit gets me fantasizing about soap.

View that took my breath away: Seeing the endless stretch of the Sierras as I flew in to Reno/Tahoe for the first time. In the winter, it's an aching field of white all the way to the horizon, like a world wiped clean. Looking out at it gives you this unmatched feeling of eternity.

Most challenging travel moment: Sharing a pull-out couch in a cramped New York apartment. The heat wave of 2010 was in full, humid swing and the air conditioning was D.O.A. There was nothing to do but soak your clothes in the sink and hope to pass out before they dried. ...then wake up in an hour and do it all again.

Favorite way to get around: On foot. I'm still working on the motorcycle license.


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I disagree with you Nathan. I am an avid traveler, and I truly hate traveling in proximity to kids (the crying ones) and fat people (those sitting next to me). I am not an epicenter of thin myself, but a guy Kevin’s size makes the flight experience truly dreadful considering the space limitations on Southwest flights. There’s a reason why so many people like to travel with this airline: it’s the price and not the luxurious spaciousness. I’ve had a 5 hour flight once sitting next to an overweight person, and the fat was spilling into my seat. I felt trapped and bit my tongue the whole flight as the traveler next to me was a nice guy. Nothing against fat people. It’s just hard to feel cramped in 85% of the already narrow seat you 100% paid for.

Doug Moore

OK now I have had enough of the Airlines and their one way attitude to passengers and their comfort. Yes I am an overweight guy 260 honest pounds and I travel at least 2 times a week mostly long distance, like many overweight passengers I do try really hard to be considerate and more than happy to change seats or find a row with spare seats etc. Anything to assist the many over worked flight attendants who have to deal with the situation, mostly with great courtesy and diplomacy.

Now Mr CEO tell me this, when are the airlines going to check properly that their plane seats are clean and healthy? Not covered in gum or worse the last uneaten remains of that dreadful mess you call inflight food?

When will you check that the incontinent passengers on long distance flights have not used their seats as bathrooms because they are unable or unwilling to use the rest rooms.

When are you going to make us put up with hoards of screaming crying children all the way from NYC to San Diego, on my last flight there were 14 under 6′s and they either do not pay or get reductions. Apart from the noise most parents, again do not take care to clean up after they have travelled.

And why allow passengers to use super deluxe stereo headphones that the whole plane can hear some of us really do not want Lady Ga Ga or whatever all the way from LAX to MIA.

Point I am labouring to make is it is not only Fat people who are different and should be discriminated against, for heavens sake where does it end? Am I really going to protest is sitting next to a Sikh or a Muslim or Jew? Will I object to sitting next to a vegaterian or a vegan?

Lets stop all this B……T once and for all its a small world growing smaller try introducing yourself and smiling you will get much further and you Airline CEO’s need to grow up and set an example.

If you read all this thanks for caring——Doug

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I’ll never pay for the second seat.I never knew about this con of being overweight.

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