Is Southwest going to stop me from flying?
February 25, 2010 5:29 PM   Subscribe

Is Southwest Airlines going to Kevin Smith me?

Due to a very unexpected family emergency, I am taking a last minute and unbudgeted-for flight tomorrow on Southwest. I wear a women's size 20-22W. Am I at risk of being Kevin Smithed (or, prevented from flying because I'm too fat)? (I have flown SW without a problem before, but I'm now hugely nervous.) I can't afford a second ticket and I'm absolutely panicking the hell out. (Yes, I can of course fit in the seats, but it doesn't sound like that matters much.)
posted by dumbledore69 to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As far as I have ever been able to tell from stories like this, you can't tell ahead of time and it's up to the individuals at the airport's discretion (or lack thereof). Sorry. I hope you get through without getting any crap...
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:34 PM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Given the current media attention that SW is getting because of the Kevin Smith thing, I'd think it would be less likely that you'll get the boot than it would've been the previous times you've flown. Just make sure you've got the armrest down, because that's apparently what singled him out to the attendant. And if they try any funny business, raise hell. Just speculation, but I would think that they'd be very concerned about their image right now.
posted by a.steele at 5:35 PM on February 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you have a prominent part where fat is, try to buckle under or over it, rather than on the equator; even if you have to move yourself around afterwards to show the buckle is buckled.
posted by tilde at 5:38 PM on February 25, 2010

I had the same fear flying southwest and I'm a bit bigger than you. I flew okay..but others smaller than me don't.

It's very arbitrary. VERY.

If the flight is not full then you're safe. Other than that, yes you have something to fear but if you can't afford the second seat then there's nothing you can do about it.

And it's not just Southwest, every airline has this type of policy, Southwest is just the most publicized for doing it. American, Delta, same situations.

So in the end, just try to be inconspicuous and don't LOOK nervous. If you can, find a seat with no one sitting next to you, and hope for the best. A LOT of people fly who don't fit well in the is a very small percentage that get confronted. I made it on 4 flights with Southwest and no one said a word to me...and after the Kevin Smith thing you may actually be lucky to be flying now because they'll be a bit more conscious of actually applying this policy.

Good luck!
posted by arniec at 5:39 PM on February 25, 2010

And if they try any funny business, raise hell.

While you're on the aircraft, raise hell means "be firm and stand up for yourself," not "create a ruckus that will get you kicked off the plane."
posted by sallybrown at 5:43 PM on February 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm around the same size as you, and while I don't fly Southwest, I do fly within the US quite a bit. I've never had a problem getting armrests down or the seatbelt buckled with room to spare, which are supposed to be the criteria they use. I generally don't seem to take up any space in my neighbor's seat. I do get elbowed in the side quite alot though.

Of course, it does depend a bit on your body shape, but I still think you'll be fine.
posted by cabingirl at 5:50 PM on February 25, 2010

supposedly, the test should be the armrest test. hopefully for your sake they follow their own guidelines. sit, put your arm rests down, buckle immediately. just in case, you might want to take a phone cam picture of these conditions being met so if you're thrown off you can prove you fell within their guidelines. the only thing that will get them to follow the rules they set is being publicly shamed when they don't.
posted by nadawi at 5:52 PM on February 25, 2010

Yes, to be clear, I meant "be firm and stand up for yourself." Especially if you know from previous experience that you fit in the seats. You have a famliy emergency and have just as much right to be on the plane as anyone else. Good luck!
posted by a.steele at 5:56 PM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just flew Southwest (for the first time in 10 years) 10 days ago. I am about your size, maybe a bit bigger, and had no problems at all. And my flights were completely full on three out of four legs. I know one person who was given the two seat treatment by Southwest, but she was 300+ and a size 28-30.

I about 4 times a year, domestically and internationally. Until 4 months ago, I was almost 300lbs. I carried my own extender, which I frequently needed. I flew Continental, US Air, Northwest, and American. I never had a problem. I think a few things helped me. I always dress nicely. Comfortably, but nicely. No sweats or lounge pants. I looked polished and professional. The other thing, is that I always tried (and still do) to get a window seat. It gives me a) a little more room to lean into, and b) a place to rest my head so I can get some sleep.

Once, on an international flight with a friend, the guy who was sitting next to me asked to be reseated after we took off. I wasn't touching him in anyway (my weight is in my tum and boobs, not my hips, and I had the armrest up between my friend and I for extra space). Still, there was no problem... that was Icelandair.
posted by kimdog at 5:56 PM on February 25, 2010

I'm large, too. I always book a window seat, so that I can lean way over against the wall and not impinge upon the person next to me. My guess is that at least some of the problems are generated by seatmates complaining (if only with a silent "help me" look towards the stewardess).
posted by ErikaB at 6:04 PM on February 25, 2010

Sorry you're having a family emergency. Southwest's seating scheme is first-come, first-served, sort of, so if you're going to go for a window seat as others have suggested, and if you're able to check in online, then print out your boarding pass ASAP to maximize your chance of getting in the "A group." (Group A boards first, then group B, and so on.) You're competing with Friday business travellers.

But if you haven't had a problem before, you'll probably be okay. The Kevin Smith thing doesn't signify any change in their policies.
posted by scatter gather at 6:27 PM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of my best friends is about your size, flies all the time, and has never been questioned.

I don't know how you usually dress to fly -- you might already know this trick -- but it will help both your resolve and reduce your likelihood of being judged harshly if you dress a little bit nicer than the average traveler and be a little extra-careful to carry yourself with good posture (ignoring how grim flying is these days.)

I'm not saying you should wear a suit/stockings/heels and cop an attitude, but leaning a little more towards business casual in both dress and attitude will likely motivate any size-police airline staff to smile on you and aim their lasers instead at someone wearing sweatpants, dirty sneakers, and a scowl.
posted by desuetude at 6:27 PM on February 25, 2010

I can't find the reference now but thought I recently learned that you could pay an extra $10? $20? to be put into the first seating group. If that's indeed true (and again, apologies that I don't know where I read that) it might help in finding the seat you prefer.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 7:25 PM on February 25, 2010

I don't think anyone's mentioned this, but as long as the flight isn't overbooked Southwest will reimburse you the price of the second seat (see the fifth question).
posted by Rhaomi at 8:54 PM on February 25, 2010

hapax_legomenon is talking about this I think. Southwest checks you in automatically before people are allowed to do it themselves. You aren't actually guaranteed to board in the first group, but when I did this with my flights last Christmas I was at the very front after the business class people. (Southwest's version of business class, that is. I wouldn't actually pay for that.)

It's $10 each way, but I think totally worth it.
posted by sevenless at 9:09 PM on February 25, 2010

The armrest test is the OFFICIAL rule, but the practice seems to be highly arbitrary. In Kevin Smith's case, the people who decided to chuck him off the flight never saw him in his seat - where he did actually have the armrest down, and belt on.
posted by Billegible at 10:55 PM on February 25, 2010

And note in the same post that the woman he met while travelling got treatment just as bad - and she'd paid $200 or so to be in the first seating group explicitly to avoid unpleasantness.

Don't avoid travel because of SW, just avoid travel WITH SW.
posted by Billegible at 10:57 PM on February 25, 2010

Have you discovered I just like to look at the "floor plan" before I fly, but you can also use it to check seat sizes, legroom, power ports, which seats have floor storage, and which seats don't recline.

You can look up planes by airline, and compare ones you've been on with ones you haven't in order to better predict how you will do.

It looks like Southwest has 17 inch seats, which is a little smaller than average (by 0.2 of an inch). You might want to avoid bulkhead seats, if there are any, as they have their table trays in the arm of the seat, making them a little bit smaller than the other seats.
posted by Sallyfur at 10:59 PM on February 25, 2010

You will not be "Kevin Smithed" unless you do what Kevin Smith did: He bought 2 Southwest tickets for his supersized self, as was his custom, and then tried to take an earlier flight that was overbooked. They didn't have 2 empty side-by-side seats for him, so they put him on another flight. End of story.

Southwest flight attendants do not go through the aisles hunting for fat people. If you know that you fit in a single seat, you will be totally fine. So stop worrying and have a good flight!
posted by turducken at 12:40 AM on February 26, 2010

I thought I saw somewhere that a big part of their complaint with him was that his shoulders were so wide that with three people in the row, when they all sat back, the aisle person was too far out in the hallway. So, even if he had the armrest down, it was upper body that caused the problem. I've been in a row with two other big guys and the flight attendant moved us around to avoid that problem.

You should be fine though. I fly often and have never seen this happen to anyone--it is not the norm. Oh, and I'll second the dress nicely part. I find that it makes a big difference.
posted by midwestguy at 10:04 AM on February 26, 2010

Turducken that's not actually what happened with Kevin Smith (it's what the media reported in general, but it's not actually what happened).

In any case, I think because of the whole Kevin Smith debacle, Southwest employees are going to be much less arbitrary about how they enforce their policy at least for a little while so you should be safe. Also, you have your ticket on Southwest and it doesn't sound like you're in a position to eat it and go with another airline, so you might as well not spend too much time worrying about it. Dress nicely as others have said and make sure you put the arm rest down when you sit.

And as a side note I recommend not purchasing Southwest tickets in the future. It's just not worth it to have to worry about this crap especially when you're dealing with emergencies.
posted by Kimberly at 11:12 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just an update -- I did not get Kevin Smithed. Hooray!

I truly prefer not to fly Southwest, but unfortunately they are the only nonstop route from the closest airport to me to the closet airport near where my dad is hospitalized (at the airport now waiting for shuttle), so in that regard I am SOL. I will say that last time I flew out here, I swore it was the last time ever, but shit happens, I guess.
posted by dumbledore69 at 5:21 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

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