Last Friday The Today show had as a guest Kenlie Tiggeman, who is currently suing Southwest Airlines over an incident where she was told she was “too fat to fly” by a gate agent. Whether you agree or not with her issues with Southwest in her legal case, this is something that brings up a range of questions in my mind.
Now please bear in mind that I am not exactly tiny (yeah like most I need to drop about 30 lbs), so I get the problems with the reductions in seat sizes and this is one reason I like to sit “in front of the curtain”. You might remember my humorous post about things that will get you kicked off a Delta flight? It included being a “passenger of size” although in reality they will try to accommodate you in some way as you will see! Seriously though, my first question after seeing this story is how do airlines determine a passenger to be a “passenger of size” ? What are the alternate seating policies for “passengers of size” ?
Here is what our airline will do. First, Delta’s policies state that a passenger must be able to fasten the seat belt with 1 extension and lower both armrests. Failure to meet these conditions means the passenger qualifies as a “passenger of size” and must comply with alternate seating requirements. These can include requiring the passenger to move to another seat with more space available, or in the case of a full flight, they may end up having to wait for a seat on a later flight that is not fully booked so there would be an extra empty seat available. In today’s world of very full flights, this could be a long wait. But it is important to note that unlike SW Air, Delta does not require the passenger to purchase an additional seat. Delta’s policy is clearly stated at Delta.com.
Back to Southwest Airline’s policy that states in the contract of carriage on page 11 that it is their sole discretion to determine if a passenger “encroaches on an adjacent seat area or is unable to sit in a single seat with the armrest lowered.” The Today show story asserts that the Southwest Airlines employee asked this woman how much she weighed, and what size clothing she wore. Now in my experience, you NEVER ask a woman what she weighs or how old she is (and I have been told the weight on her driver’s license is a “goal” weight)!
If the policies all center around fitting into the seat, then there should be a means provided to check to see if a passenger can in fact fit into the seat. Whether that means requesting any suspected “passengers of size” to pre-board in order to discreetly check or having a size-wise passenger seat available in a discreet location. This brochure, published in March of this year by NAAFA, makes several suggestions for persons of size to consider prior to travel in order to make things go more smoothly for them on their trip.
I like the fact that our airline will not force a 2nd seat purchase. But I also see the reason to amass just a ridiculous amount of points so I do not have to ever fly coach unless I want to! – Rene