‘Silent Bob’s’ barrage squeezes airlines on obesity

Posted Feb. 15, 2010 at 4:10 p.m.


By Julie Johnsson | Director Kevin Smith’s Twitter-fit during the weekend highlights one uncomfortable reality of U.S. airline flying: airlines have less leeway to accommodate obese passengers at a time when Americans are getting fatter.

Kevin Smith at the Chicago Film Festival
in 2008. (Nuccio DiNuzzo) >>

In a barrage of profane tweets and a podcast, Smith expressed outrage that he was bumped from a Southwest Airlines flight from Oakland to Burbank, Calif., after the crew determined he was too large to fit in a single seat.

Smith, best known for playing “Silent Bob” in his indie breakthrough film “Clerks,” had purchased two seats for another Southwest flight on Saturday. The customer-service flap occurred when he tried to travel standby on an earlier flight that was heavily booked.

Here’s Southwest’s take on the incident.

Southwest has long asked obese passengers to purchase two seats and has a policy of refunding the cost of the second ticket for flights that aren’t jammed.

But Southwest’s planes are far likelier to be sold out today than in the past as it and other carriers reduce flying in an effort to gain better control over pricing.

Southwest, in a break from the past, is constraining capacity at a time when it is drawing waves of new passengers because of its “bags fly free” policy. In fact, Southwest’s load factor, a measure of seats sold, was 72.1 percent for January, up from 62.8 percent during the year-earlier period.

Carriers like United Airlines are also grappling with how to deal with over-sized passengers on sold-out flights. And there’s no easy solution. Airlines have to weigh the hurt feelings of a passenger asked to disembark against the discomfort of his or her seat-mates.

For more on the topic, check out this Tribune story.

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  1. Rick Feb. 15, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    This isn’t news. Celebrities aren’t interesting and society is way too invested in them.

  2. James Feb. 15, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    How about having airline seats be like the seats for movie theaters so at least there’s a chance most Americans can fit comfortably into them?
    It’s pretty sad when we let dogs fly aboard passenger cabins (yet we can’t have peanuts – one allergy counts and another doesn’t?) but are less concerned with human cargo.

  3. GW Feb. 16, 2010 at 12:07 a.m.

    Yes, in addition to half the population being overweight, we can now say after reading many of these comments, that half the population is unable to read or understand what they are reading. All of the commentors who are screaming that overweight people should buy two seats need to reread the article and realize that was not the issue here. He did buy two seats, but they allowed him to move to an earlier flight that did not have the additional seat. The decision to not let him on this flight should have been made before he boarded. Is it too much to ask that people read an article and understand it before they comment? You people must have been nightmares in your English comp classes.

  4. lancecrossfire Feb. 16, 2010 at 12:29 a.m.

    I actuallye sat through the misery that was Dogma back in 1999, paying good money for the privilege. Should I have demanded my money back? Honestly, the thought never occurred to me, until now. Hey there Kevin!!

  5. jacat651 Feb. 16, 2010 at 10:52 a.m.

    Lets not forget the fact that Southwest or any airline for that matter, does not charge less for clients who are smaller. If the argument is weight then smaller folks should pay less. Simply, this policy is not well written, not well enforced and more importantly, it is policy with too many arbitrary factors.
    I think in this circumstance, Kevin Smith has every right to be upset, as does the woman who was asked to buy a second seat when there was an empty one next to her. This is simply another way for airlines to squeeze people in like cattle and maximize profitability, not focus on customer service.

  6. Lakendra Strother Feb. 18, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Very high charges if you go into the red. I was charged ?180 in a single month for a few excursions into the red. All was good until my current account manger moved on and his useless replacement came in. It took me 2 weeks to get a reply to my messages! Basically a bank is only as good as the business manger you are assigned. If you get a good manager then you usually get good service. I’m now looking for another bank/manager.

  7. Jame Vasudevan Feb. 24, 2010 at 9:51 a.m.

    Non-existent customer service at Natwest and complete lack of any attempt at complaint resolution.