Southwest vs the power of the ‘net: Kevin Smith wins

by , under personal

One of the stories now flooding the mainstream news, but already over the Twittersphere was Kevin Smith being ejected from a Southwest Airlines flight. He was told it was because he violated their “Customers of Size” policy (which says that any customer who is unable to lower both armrests must purchase two seats). Interestingly enough, Smith HAD purchased two seats on his original flight, but when on standby for an earlier flight was only able to get one. And was able to lower the armrests. Yet was still asked to leave.

Southwest of course, is embarrassed. They offered him a voucher, he was able to get on a later Southwest flight (again, in a single seat where this pilot deemed he wasn’t too fat to fly). But by that point in time, he’d already tweeted to all his followers everything that had happened. And when Southwest’s official apology went up, it was basically too late.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Southwest pilots/crews have seemingly arbitrarily singled people out. Not so long ago, a Southwest crew removed a mother and a crying two year old- saying that they were being disruptive. Then a few years ago, another Southwest crew removed a young woman from a flight, saying that she was under dressed (while wearing a short skirt, tank top and cropped cardigan).

I understand that all airline crews need to have the latitude to remove disruptive passengers, as well as ensure that other passengers can fly comfortably. I’ve sat next to overweight people who intruded on my own seat, and no, it isn’t fun.

The most interesting facet of this story is how clearly this shows where modern businesses need to improve. Response time. It took a full day before they issued their official apology, mostly due to the fact that Smith’s flight was over the weekend. It took them several days after the story of the mother and 2 year old being removed broke before they apologized, and when they finally did it was only after she’d appeared on Good Morning America or Today. However, the story had been posted on the internet, and even before her appearance on national tv- was already spread across countless blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

Businesses need to catch up to modern technology. While it was understandable that these things were monitored and dealt with on a Monday through Friday basis before, you only have to see the damage that Smith was able to deal to Southwest in the span of 24 hours- simply by posting to his Twitter page. While yes, his story spread quickly because he’s famous- if it had happened to any other overweight person who posted their plight to Twitter… it would have spread. It’s the nature of Twitter to see something interesting and spread it along. Unless businesses are ready to adapt to this, they’re going to just keep being embarrassed like Southwest has been.

(As an aside: Can you think of any other airlines that have had controversial removals like Southwest? Any news stories I’ve seen about passenger removals have all been for openly belligerent or drunken passengers that would have been a security risk, and those have spanned multiple airlines. But Southwest seems to be the one that pops up regularly in cases with these sorts of questionable removals)