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: http://www.blogsouthwest.com/

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 (http://twitter.com/yunjid/status/9108130507). 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: http://smodcast.com/

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).

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4 Responses to “Kevin Smith vs Southwest Airlines: Silent Bob Strikes!”

  1. Ellen Rossano February 14, 2010 at 2:05 pm #

    Hello Kai,

    What a mess! I’m surprised it took Southwest Airlines such a long time to respond, and I was disappointed with their answer. Their defensive stance and the lack of their usual “smart and fun” tone are going to hurt them, because this is not going away quickly.

    I’m not sure I can listen to Kevin Smith’s podcast live – small children and all that (!) but I’ll check back to see what you think.

    Cheers!

  2. kaimac February 14, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

    Hey Ellen – yea, really good point on the timing. They could easily have come out with this yesterday… really don’t get why it took so long.

    I will be very, very surprised if they don’t review the policy, or (more likely) how it’s implemented. That’s what this is all about, after all.

    Will post an update after I’ve seen his podcast )

  3. laura February 14, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    How come they never remove the fat guy smashing me on a flight? Seriously though if this is ‘policy’ why are so many overweight people let on flights? Don’t they need to buy 2 tickets to pay for the seat they are ‘using’? And from what I recall Kevin Smith isn’t that fat. How weird. And they picked the wrong guy to mess with.

    Interesting.

  4. kaimac February 14, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    Yea. His main issue is that they let him on the plane, then the captain said he had to get off. That’s the issue: he said he had no problem with the ‘fat tax’ or whatever you want to call it, but humiliating him like that is totally out of order. Just non-nonsensical.

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