Archive | February, 2010

#kevinsmithgate update: What @southwestair did wrong

15 Feb

OK, so by now everybody knows the Kevin Smith/Southwest story that I covered in my previous post. I’ve read all the tweets + listened to his 70 minute Smodcast (podcast) on the matter and wanted to summarize the situation and clear up a couple of misconceptions, before highlighting a couple of areas I think Southwest have messed up pretty badly in:

1. Smith often travels on Southwest and generally buys more than one seat, he says for comfort.

2. He does not NEED to buy an extra seat because he’s fat, per their criteria: he can sit in the seat with the armrests down AND get his seatbelt on.

3. He was let on the earlier flight, then told to get off because he posed a risk, so he had to get his stuff and walk off the plane, as if he had done something wrong.

4. A big part of why Smith is so pissed is that on the second flight (the one he was originally booked on), the stewardess came and did the same thing to a girl sat in the same row as him. Well, not quite: she didn’t get thrown off the flight, but the stewardess told her that next time she should consider buying two seats. On a flight that wasn’t full. Smith also claims that the stwerdess told the girl she had to ask Smith (who owned the empty middle seat between them, remember) if he minded.  Minded what, exactly? Her being fat? If you listen to his podcast you can clearly hear the hurt in his voice as he talks about this part in particular. It does sound terribly humiliating.

Anyhow, net net: as we all know by now, Smith went ape, Southwest went kinda quiet.  They posted a weak apology on their blog, and haven’t done a whole lot since.  So where did they go wrong?

1. Too slow
It took them almost 24 hours to comment anywhere other than on Twitter, that’s WAY too long.

2. Too defensive
Their ‘apology’ basically just repeats their weight policy, instead of it being a mea culpa.  They either think they were right to throw him off (so no apology needed), or they made a mistake (and apology IS needed). but to apologize but then tell him he is too fat is just odd.

3. Not technically prepared
The blog went down under the traffic pretty much immediately they posted it. That’s just bad planning. If it was my blog that would be one thing, but Southwest are a big company. Even now, comments are down on the blog (conspiracy theorists are LOVING that, of course).

4. Radio Silence
Since their blog post went up they have said almost nothing. The Twitter handle has been completely silent for 14 hours, and they have only tweeted twice since their blog post went up, both times to let people know they were having technical issues. What use is being active in social media if you go quiet when it hits the fan?  I don’t get it.

5. No Engagement
Related to the radio silence, they’re simply not engaging: since they put their blog post up, the strategy appears to simply be to ignore the situation. Is that smart? I don’t think so.

Cliche alert: this whole episode has been a great example of the power of social media: Smith turned down a bunch of TV interviews (he even claimed that one of the networks sent somebody to his house!), and instead chose to, in his words, scorch the earth on Twitter and via his podcast. On Southwest’s side though, maybe they’re not the social media powerhouse we all thought they were? I personally am very disappointed in how they’ve handled things. Smith has controlled his message & engaged. Southwest have put their head in the sand.

I would be *very* surprised indeed if Southwest don’t announce this week that they are reviewing that particular policy, and in particular how it gets implemented. Should an overweight person have the right to encroach on my personal space on an plane? No, of course not, but should that paying customer be humiliated and put down in public by a representative of the very company they’re paying? Again, of course not.

Update @4.50, Monday: According to Smith, Linda from Southwest called him to apologize, and said that the captain DID NOT single him out for ejection. Took a while, but that’s progress from @southwestair, definitely.

update @7.45, Monday: Linda (of Southwest, though amusingly she doesn’t say what she does there) posted an hour or so ago on the Southwest blog. Again certainly progress, but still doesn’t feel quite right to me. It’s definitely much better than the previous post, and the apology is definitely much more sincere but it stops short of a full mea culpa.  The last line is exactly what they needed though:

“This has our attention, and we will be reviewing how and when this delicate policy is implemented.”

Full post is here:

What do you think?


Kevin Smith vs Southwest Airlines: Silent Bob Strikes!

14 Feb

Movie director Kevin Smith claims he got thrown off a Southwest plane yesterday for being too fat.  He’d already boarded and sat down when he claims he was told to leave as he had been deemed a safety risk by the pilot.  Understandably, he was less than pleased about this, and tweeted his displeasure at length. 32 tweets as of last night, each going to 1.6 million followers = more than 52 million impressions from the @thatkevinsmith twitter handle last night alone. Include all the other conversations and it’s gotta be in the hundreds of millions of impressions already: a google search for “southwest fat” brings up nothing but references to the incident. Oops.

Surprisingly, other than some tweets from @southwestair, there’s been no official comment from the airline. They said they tried to call him to apologize but weren’t able to get through. It’s pretty incredible to me that the higher-ups at the organization would leave so much time pass without making any sort of official statement, leaving the girl who handles @southwestair in the firing line.  By making a statement they wouldn’t make the problem go away (what happened, happened… and Smith is clearly fuming), but they would show that they were listening, and that they’d heard Smith’s complaint (tho in fairness it would be pretty hard to avoid it).  The inconsistencies alone (Smith claims he didn’t have to buy two seats on the first leg of the trip) warrant an investigation: they should have been right on that last night.

This has turned into a fully fledged PR disaster for Southwest and I fully expect the story to start doing the rounds on the TV networks today.  Smith is releasing a podcast tonight to talk about what went down, and unless he’s calmed down significantly overnight, I would expect that to be pretty scathing.

It’s fine for an airline to have a weight policy for passengers: that makes absolute sense.  It’s not fine for them to humiliate passengers by telling them to leave when they’ve already boarded. You have to wonder how often this happens to people that don’t have Smith’s megaphone.

My biggest question here is: where’s Southwest’s crisis response plan?  They’ve done almost nothing to manage the situation, which is absolutely unbelievable to me. It’s great that they’re active on Twitter, but they’re getting hammered right now, and their silence is deafening.

UPDATE @4pm: Southwest just made a statement on their blog, here:

They apologized to Smith, but basically said he was too fat, and didn’t address any of his accusations (i.e. that the plane wasn’t full), or address the fact THAT HE WAS LET ON THE PLANE IN THE FIRST PLACE, which is the heart of the issue. Instead they defended their policy (“we’ve had it for 25 years” “other airlines have the same” and “we don’t make money from it”, and completely missed the point. Smith went off because he was hauled off the plane, not because they have a weight policy…. how can Southwest not have addressed that? Beggers belief.  And what do they think is to be gained from getting defensive?  The statement does nothing other than make Southwest seem old fashioned: big mis-step guys.

Incidentally, the networks are already trying to get hold of Smith ( This one is not going to die-down.  Smith’s podcast comes out in little over an hour, should be interesting.

PS – thanks to @ellenrossano for forwarding me the @southwestair blog copy.  It’s still timing out for me.  Weak.

Update @8am Monday: Kevin’s Smodcast went live last night, and there’s a bunch of new info in there.  First of all, he was initially on a later flight (for which he had two tickets, something he says he regularly does on Southwest for comfort), but went on standby for an earlier one. There was only one seat (in the middle it turns out) available on that earlier flight.  They let him board, he’s sat down…. and the stewardess comes up and tells him the captain has told him he has to leave. He makes the point that he fits between the armrests and by Southwest’s own criteria, he’s not too fat to fly, but she wouldn’t listen. He gets his stuff and leaves the plane.

His podcast is a great example of ‘social media right to reply’.  Definitely recommend that you listen to it, here:

I’m going to post again later on with some thoughts on what Southwest did wrong here (at at 9.20am on Monday are still doing wrong).