by | Jun 23, 2002 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Coffee, tea or . . . double-wide? Clearly believing the nation is in need of a good laugh, Southwest Airlines has given us the latest wrinkle in the world’s kookiest mode of transport. This, remember, is a business that has one guy paying $49 for his ticket and the next guy paying $1,728. And the guy who paid
$49 is in first class.

Here is the new development:

Fat people pay twice.

That’s right. You’re too fat, you buy two seats. Otherwise, you don’t fly. Oh, sure, the Southwest folks don’t put it that bluntly. They call it their new
“customers of size” policy.

Hey, you can call it the Cheeseburger Code for all it matters; the details are the same. If you are too large, you have to pay for two seats. Before you get on the plane. And guess who gets to determine whether you’re too fat to fit?

The ticket agents.

Great. Have you ever gotten into an argument with one of these people over the size of your carry-on bag? Just imagine defending your belly. “Look, lady, I fly all the time, and my thighs always fit. Heck, I flew yesterday — wearing these same pants!” Good luck. These ticket agents are the same stressed-out, overworked, glassy-eyed people who bear the brunt of every travel complaint known to man, who must explain weather patterns when they don’t know weather and maintenance problems when they don’t know maintenance, who must explain to that elderly foreign couple that “this is not your boarding pass, this is your laundry receipt” — these same people now have to stare up and down at some sweaty, 400-pound passenger and say, in an impossibly polite fashion, “Fatso, you pay double.”

Can I say what you’re thinking?

Who came up with THIS idiotic idea?

Safety and comfort?

For one thing, how many people are we talking about? How could this possibly be worth establishing a new policy — given the easily anticipated negative publicity it would cause?

That’s dumb enough. But even dumber is giving other passengers, like me, a gift-wrapped chance to complain about the size of airplane seats in the first place!

A-hem . . .

The width of a Southwest Airlines seat is just over 17 inches. That is smaller than a computer keyboard. And keyboards don’t wiggle.

Southwest spokespeople insist their new chubby-chaser policy “is for the safety and comfort of all of our passengers” — a standard line used by the airlines to explain everything from why your tray table has to be up 20 minutes before you land to why a flight attendant refuses to allow you to hang your jacket. The safety and comfort of passengers.

Well, now, here’s an idea. If the airlines are really so concerned about safety and comfort of passengers, stop designing seats for woodchucks. Even normal-sized people have to be shoehorned into a coach seat. In order to read a book, you have to suck in your stomach. The person in the window seat better hit the bathroom before the flight takes off, unless he has a pole vault. And when the guy in front of you decides to lean back and take a nap, you could apply Rogaine to the bald spot on his scalp. Safety and comfort of passengers? Who’s zooming who?

Size does matter

Already, people are lining up for lawsuits. In a nation that is afraid to call its sports teams “Chiefs,” just try telling someone he’s too jumbo to jet. They should open a courtroom outside Dairy Queen.

And the sad fact is, the airlines created this problem themselves. They are desperate to sardine every inch of money out of a plane. They could have a row for larger people. They could design seats for human beings, not Kate Moss. They don’t, because those things are not their top priority; profit is.

But don’t worry. I’m sure, in their infinite sensitivity, the airlines will come up with another great idea, this time to get large people to forgive them. You know what I’m thinking?

Two bags of peanuts.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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