Douchebag Decree: Southwest Airlines

"ye olde douchebag decree" in blue letters with a light blue hand-drawn douchebag in the background, and "BITCH HEREBY DECLARES THE FOLLOWING PERSON A TOTAL DOUCHEBAG" in small letters in red underneath.

When I heard that Southwest had done something appalling, my first thought was, “Again?” It wasn’t long ago that the airlines made headlines by demanding that Kyla Ebbert change for the privilege of using the ticket she’d bought. Their apparent objection to female legs set off a douchestorm, with “serious news” articles introducing Ebbert as a “shapely coed” and modesty advocates saying Ebbert should “pay [Southwest] out of gratitude.” More recently, Southwest employees have booted Muslim women wearing headscarves off their planes, on multiple occasions, for seeming “suspicious.” At least one of these passengers, Samantha Carrington, actually spent a night in jail as a result of the flight staff’s claims that she could be a terrorist.

Then there was the time they kicked a man off their plane for his size, despite his clearly not fitting their own “Customer of Size” criteria. (Yeah, we’ll get back to that fine-print charmer in a moment.) Of course, that man turned out to be über-famous filmmaker Kevin Smith, and he blasted them publicly. Wouldn’t a company start to treat people better after that, if only for its own sake?

Apparently, no. Southwest Airlines’ bigotry knows no bounds, and they showed their fatphobic colors again last week at the expense of vlogger AthiaC. When you hear about this doozy, I hope you’ll agree that the company needs a brand new name …

The Southwest Airlines logo (a blue and red cartoon of a plane) with "SOUTHWEST AIRLINES" under it in black, but with red, graffiti-like letters changing to say "DOUCHEFEST AIRLINES".

On her way home to Florida, Athia and her aunt and uncle arrived well in advance for their flight, which was fortunate since Southwest had overbooked the plane. When the three were about to board, an employee took Athia aside, and, without looking directly at her, told her to buy a second seat for her “safety and comfort.” Athia realized why she was being targeted, despite having no previous trouble on Southwest flights, including at that same airport:

It clicks with me that they’re attempting to push me off of the flight […] They’d rather have me pay $100 for another seat than have to reimburse [a stranded person] for her ticket which she paid $300+ for which is more than I paid for mine. I tell this to the supervisor and she becomes visibly upset with me and says that that it is not the case at all and that it is for my safety and comfort—once again repeating that phrase. Then she says, “You all better make a decision right now because you’re going to delay the plane.”

In other words, the Southwest employees tried to shame her into staying off of the plane for fear of losing money. (If you harbor any doubt about this, just keep reading.) The “You all better make a decision” bit, besides being inappropriate—the three of them had done nothing wrong, after all—alluded to a threat of public humiliation, because who wants to be blamed for holding up a flight?

Since Athia had to get home, she paid the bogus extra $100, but Southwest’s shady motives only got clearer. After finally being allowed to get onto the now-boarded flight, Athia and her family members suffered, yes, public humiliation after all, since the staff had not been discreet about the fact that they were harassing Athia due to her size. Walking to the back of the plane, Athia was accosted by sexist and racist, as well as sizeist, remarks from fellow passengers, then she was singled out due to the overbook once again:

There’s a man and his wife and kid and they don’t have a seat for him. His wife and son have a seat, but he doesn’t. And so the flight attendant walks up and down the aisle and sees the empty space between my aunt and I and says very loudly, “Did you purchase that?” I could only nod my head, yes.

She said “Oh, okay” and continued walking up and down the aisle. […] The most shady thing that happened was when another employee came up to my aunt, handed her back the money and told my uncle to sit next to us.

Yes, they took back the seat they had bullied Athia into buying rather than giving another customer a refund, and, likely, dealing with the anger of a family of people deemed more important than Athia and her relatives. Considering Athia’s lack of trouble with Southwest in the past, and the clear situation of a chaotic overbooking, I think it’s clear that the situation was not sparked by employees’ concern for her welfare. But even giving them the greatest benefit of the doubt, if Southwest really thought an extra seat was necessary for Athia’s “safety and comfort,” what would it mean that they were then willing (without even asking her!) to take it back as soon as they could think of another use for it? Simply put, it would mean that Athia’s safety and comfort were not important to them. Given that “comfortable” is just about the last word I’d use to describe repeated fat-shaming in a crowded, enclosed space, is that a surprise?

In any case, Southwest viewed her as an acceptable target during a stressful time, and they did so because of the pervasive notion that bigger people are less-than. (NOTE: If you are new to size-positivity, Kate Harding’s “Don’t You Realize Fat Is Unhealthy?” is a must-read.)

And I feel it necessary to draw attention to the fact that Southwest, as a company, adheres to this shameful belief well beyond this one incident (or the one with Kevin Smith).

Check out Athia’s full story, in her own words:

Transcript (by Athia herself!) here.

A Douchefest Airlines defender might (at best) say, “Sure, this was nasty, but maybe the problem’s with a few specific staff members rather than the company as a whole.” Yeah, no. Even putting aside the other prejudiced actions that Southwest’s been called on, a closer look at their website confirms an alarming—and alarmingly common—anti-fat rhetoric. Their “Customer of Size” FAQ emphasizes, again and again, that they will give refunds to passengers who experience “encroachment by a large seatment” or are “infringed upon” by “a large Customer.” The aggressive language makes it clear that they consider size-privileged people to be victims of others’ fatness.

Then there’s the demonstrably inaccurate ass-covering on SA’s part: “The inconsistency of charging for the extra seat on one occasion and not others leaves the Customer not knowing what to expect and not having a full understanding of our policy. Thus, we require the additional purchase despite booking levels.” (The referenced policy dictates that “Customers of Size” are customers who cannot, when sitting, lower both of their armrests, and that this is the only reason Southwest will charge a customer for an extra seat.) In other words, said customers will be charged for extra seats even if the flight is otherwise empty for their own good, because otherwise they might get confused. To which I say, you know, they might get confused at the fact that Southwest says that people such as Athia aren’t official “Customers of Size” on most flights but then magically become them on overbooked flights.

There’s also a repeated sentiment that customers who are required to take two seats are on their own:

[…] we encourage Customers with unique seating needs to proactively purchase additional seating (again, this is to notify us of the unique need). We ask this to accommodate our Customers in comfort and avoid embarrassing conversations. Ultimately, it is the Customer’s responsibility to communicate with us upfront (at the time of booking) about his/her seating needs so that we may best serve him/her and all others onboard.

Did you get that? “It is the Customer’s responsibility,” and they supposedly care about avoiding “embarrassing conversations.” The conversations Southwest seeks to eliminate, though, are the ones between fat customers and flight attendents, not the ones between customers, because guess what else is “the Customer’s responsibility”?

Can you ensure no one takes the seat beside me if I’ve purchased a second seat?

The Customer who has purchased two seats must be an active participant in preserving his/her additional seat. We encourage Customers of size to preboard to locate adequate seating, placing the Reserved Seat Document in the adjacent seat.

Uh-huh. Because making sure everyone boarding the flight knows that a customer has been made to purchase two seats cannot be embarrassing at all.

Still, perhaps worst of all is their answer to the question of why they charge some people extra: “These Customers had uncomfortable (and sometimes painful) travel experiences, and it is our responsibility to seek resolution to prevent this problem.” Yes, fat people do have uncomfortable and painful travel experiences … but the capital-C Customers they’re talking about aren’t fat people; they’re the people who formally complained to Southwest about being near a fat person.

We’ve all heard that bullshit, haven’t we? “Ugghh I was next to a FAT PERSON it was SO GROSS worst flight EVAR!” Sometimes, the person saying that assumes that if the people nearby aren’t fat, no one will mind this language; usually, he or she ignores that the “fat person” is likely uncomfortable for every flight; always, this ties into the same kyriarchy-lovin’ argument that some people are worth more than others.

Safety and comfort—and I don’t mean the euphemistic, quote-necessitating kind—are concepts we all deserve.

Previously: Jours Après Lunes, Lingerie for Girls, New York Post

by Deb Jannerson
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29 Comments Have Been Posted

I'm a woman flirting with the

I'm a woman flirting with the 200 lb mark for my weight, so I'm pretty conscious of my size to say the least. But I swear, the seats on the Southwest planes are a good two inches skinnier than just about every other airline. Jet Blue's seats are positively spacious compared to the sliver of butt room you get on a Southwest flight. Add in the total lack of amenities like on-board wifi and no tv or movies, and I'll gladly pay $30-$60 more per person to fly on Jet Blue over Southwest any day of the week.

Southwest Airlines

I too am a person of size. I'm 5' 11" and weigh 320 lbs. I also have longer legs with bad knees and although I am female, I wear a size 15-16 men's shoe due to Marfan's Syndrome. I have warned family that if they want to get me a plane ticket from Orlando to Panama City in the event of a family emergency, they will need to buy two seats. Southwest is apparently the only airline that flies non stop to Panama City Florida from Orlando without hauling everyone all the way to Atlanta/Hartsfield. I would only use this airline in the event of a family emergency/death, and then, they better not **** with me or I'll sue their asses,and they better make damn sure I get both seats, side by side, and nothing out of place.....Ever since they came out with this policy, I have absolutely despised them.

I refused to keep flying Southwest

when this policy was first enacted. I fly Virgin American almost exclusively now, and their seats are 19 inches, compared with the average 17. Even if they weren't wider, Virgin has yet to make me feel like a pariah. Plus, their prices are competitive with Southwest's, or less expensive overall.

JetBlue is the backup airline if I have to go somewhere Virgin doesn't. I fly so frequently, that I absolutely refuse to feel terror every time I fly.

For the record, I'm fat.

For the record, I'm fat. I've also been thin. As both a thin person and a fat person, I've been seated next to others whose bodies occupy more than one seat. The discomfort is not aesthetic; I like fat bodies. It is about not having enough space for my body. It is about the armrest digging so hard into my hip that it bruises and leaning into the aisle to move my shoulders.

I've seen people politely accept extreme physical discomfort much more often than I've seen people complain. I have yet to see another rider complain on aesthetic grounds. I'm sure it happens. I've never seen it.

Southwest is in the business of getting people from one place to another economically. They must have a consistent policy, or they will be arguing this policy every time there is some variation - like overbooking, which is an inevitable result of their fantastically generous refund/credit policy.

Staffers do not need to problematize the fat body for fatphobic reasons for the situation to be uncomfortable for fat customers. The very large body represents a practical problem that is difficult to resolve fairly in the context of limited and expensive space.

Perhaps you have a solution? And by solution, I do not mean a passionate declaration on the rights of fat passengers. I mean a simple, consistent, workable policy that passes legal muster, does not disrupt boarding and can be implemented by this airline.

I could not agree more. I

I could not agree more. I love and respect people of all sizes, but it can be really uncomfortable to sit for 5 + hours next to someone who is using half your seat plus his-hers. This article makes it seem as though any non-fat person is judgemental and this is not the case. Any service for which one pays a price should try to aim at some level of comfort, and truly, nobody likes to get home with a back ache.

No defense for Southwest

Ok, yes, any airline is in the business of getting people from A to B with a limited amount of space, and they're trying to maximize profit. But this article does NOT make it seem like all non-fat people are judgmental. This article is pointing out that Southwest Airlines is systematically discriminating against people of size by writing policies forcing them to pay extra money. Why don't airlines offer bigger seats? Why doesn't the AIRLINE work to make their customers comfortable, instead of embarrassing the customer on-the-spot for not being of what they deem is an "appropriate" size? And by looking at the other examples at the beginning of this article, like Kyla being asked to get off the airplane because of her outfit, it's clear that Southwest Airlines has a problem. If I saw Kyla wearing that skirt down the street, yeah, I might think "damn that's a short skirt!" But I wouldn't for a minute tell her that she's inappropriately dressed because, based on our culture today, she's not. Just like the lawyer said, if Paris Hilton were wearing that outfit on the plane, no one would bat an eye.

So basically, while I understand that planes have a limited amount of space in which to transport as many people as possible, that does NOT, ABSOLUTELY NOT, give airlines the right to bully, embarrass or discriminate against passengers. Any passengers. No. It's not ok.

I used to think that

"Being fat is your own fault"

I used to think very similarly. Why should I be punished for other people's actions? Then I started a medication which has weight gain as a side effect and gained thirty pounds. I am by no means fat now, slightly above the upper part of my healthy range and easily within average, but I started to realize how easy it can be to gain weight without realizing it. I also discovered that the human body is designed to resist weight loss (if I understand correctly, the metabolism adjusts itself). From an evolutionary point of view this makes a lot of sense, from a weight loss point of view it makes things much harder.

There are a variety of medical problems that can cause someone to gain weight, and once the weight is gained it's very hard to lose.

As for fairness to normal sized people, if it's about the amount of weight the plane is carrying, why don't they charge body builders more?

I couldn't agree more with

I couldn't agree more with both Em AND V. There's nothing constructive about directionless indignation. What does this situation necessitate to ensure that every customer gets his/her money's worth?

I'm with you on this, Em.

I'm with you on this, Em.

I've seen large people sit uncomfortably in airplane seats that are much too small for them, and it seems awful because, come on, it's not like airplane seats (in economy class anyway -- I've often passed the first and business class seats with more than a glimmer of envy in my eye) are comfortable for even the slimmest of people. I've also sat next to people who have needed to pull the armrest up to accommodate themselves and, thus, end up using up some of my own (pricey and already limited) seat space.

My default reaction is "life is unfair, boo hoo for you, flying sucks anyway, just deal with it," as seems to be the reaction of most people I've flown with. (For all the fatphobia and animosity tossed around online, people mostly seem to keep their opinions to themselves "in the real world." Althia's experience walking to her seat seems all the more horrifying because I can conceive of it, sure, but can't fully picture it playing out. It's like a nightmare.)

But I do wonder if maybe both the person taking up another's sitting space and the person whose space is being taken up wouldn't be more comfortable if the larger person had purchased an extra seat. Not for their "safety" (I guess this is a concern about seat belts? I have no idea what they mean by "safety" here.), but simply for the sake of comfort.

That said, I would personally be PISSED at having to buy an extra seat and probably wouldn't shell out the money for it for a short domestic trip.

What IS the solution? I would love it if airlines made larger seats in general, but that's likely expensive and unlikely.

What can be done to ensure that everyone -- large, small and in-between -- is (adequately) comfortable while flying? Or should we just assume that flying is always going toe something of an inconvenience and just deal with the discomfort accordingly?

My problem comes with the

My problem comes with the fact that people with belly fat are disproportionately targetted, compared to people who are, say, broad-shouldered but small-waisted.

It is incredibly uncomfortable to sit in an airplane seat, period. It is uncomfortable to sit next to my husband, who had a 60' chest (broader than the plane of his seat) but only a 44" waist. But he's never been asked to buy a second ticket and he never will be asked. Not to mention the fact that, since his legs are so long, his knees stick into the space of the seats next to him. Shouldn't he be charged extra for that as well?

The solution seems to require a more radical reimagining of airline travel than "charge people who look fat for two seats, unless it's inconvenient." What about offering seats of varying sizes (sizes that are published, instead of the practically-secretive seat sizing used today)? What about leaning stools instead of seats (it's better for circulation as well)?

In my experience, the people

In my experience, the people who take the most seat space are not fat people, they're those dudes who feel entitled to spread their legs as wide as possible and lean over the armrest on their phones (okay, can you tell I travel more by bus than plane?), or, worse, take up psychological space as well by leering or drinking heavily and therefore having alcohol breath. I'll take a fat person who's not doing that over one of those dudes as a seatmate any day.

This is outrageous, and we ALL need to speak out!

Come on people!
When does the discrimination stop? If someone is wearing perfume I don't like, may I ask for a refund? What about body odor of the person next to me- isn't that an encroachment of sorts? What if I don't like their hair color, or if they speak to me annoyingly the whole flight?
I travel very frequently, and am a person of size. I have never been hassled by Delta Airlines. I will NEVER fly Southwest. My husband, who is in the arts and practically lives on an airplane, will NEVER fly Southwest because of their discriminatory practices. He's thin- just disgusted by size-ism that is rampant in "Southwest Un-Fairlines." This kind of discriminatory practice is outrageous, should not be tolerated, and needs to be addressed!
What has happened to our culture, that we have become so intolerant and entitled?
Heaven forbid we should touch another human being we sit next to. Come on folks, be kinder to our fellow human beings, and know how tough it is to be a traveling person of size.

On one flight, when I was sucking my body into itself to not bother a seatmate, a soothing voice next to me crooned, "RELAX!" Surprised, I looked next to me, and a smiling, benevolent older gentleman crooned to me, "My best girl is built like you and I revel in her flesh!" That was the best flight I've ever had for many reasons, but how wonderful to feel so immediately accepted. (Thank Goddess for the fat-lovers of the world.)

Folks-where has our acceptance gone, and where has caring about our fellow human beings gone?

Southwest "Un-Fairlines," you shall see never see my fat, sexy, intelligent ass on your airplanes. And you know what? YOUR LOSS.

You'll be hearing from me...

It's unfortunate that the

It's unfortunate that the company has these discriminatory policies. Southwest is generally seen, according to the pilot in my family, as a good company to fly for. Their standards for pilots are higher that many other airlines'. To see them completely missing the mark time and time again with customers is disheartening and disappointing.

I understand and appreciate

I understand and appreciate what you are saying, and yes, it's a horrible way to treat the issue. However, as an average sized woman with severe joint disease, I have had some incredibly painful flights seated next to anyone whose body pushes into mine, whether they be of size, or larger men, as someone mentioned earlier. I understand that this is upsetting, but to say "Heaven forbid we should touch another human being we sit next to," seems unfair to others who have legitimate reasons why this scenario is not a pleasant one. I wish that the airlines could come up with a reasonable solution to please all parties. The industry is clearly very messy as it is.

As a fat person with a severe

I think there is no excuse

I think there is no excuse for Southwest's treatment of this woman or many of their policies. The airlines need to come up with a better way to accommodate everyone. This should be part of their mission to serve all their customers of all sizes well.

I advocate treating people of all sizes with respect. So ... "size-privileged people" What is that supposed to mean? That is a silly and alienating use of language that obscures the points you are making. That is not a constructive way to communicate with people convincingly. Do you go around calling men "sex-privileged people?"

Size privilege


The phrase "size-privileged people" means just that: people who experience privilege (like not having to buy two airline seats, for example) because of their size. Deb is certainly not advocating that people of all sizes don't deserve respect, she's just pointing out that some people get more respect than others due strictly to their size, especially from Southwest Airlines.

As they should

Southwest Airlines is trying to operating a high speed/low drag transportation system. Catering to the needs of non-standard size people is not and does not have to be a part of their plans.

It's not a "privilege" they are providing someone.

I realize that there has

I realize that there has already been a response to the issues you raise in this post, but I have to agree with your initial misgivings about the language used - then again, I've never been able to deal with Kate Harding (to whom this article links), and her use of mockery, sarcasm, and incessant swearing to "get her point across." I want to be clear that I do believe that people are genetically predisposed to a certain weight range. Further, I do believe that it is vital to treat every person with dignity, which Southwest Airlines clearly has not done.

As someone who doesn't like

As someone who doesn't like people touching her, I can certainly understand the problem with people who are larger than their seats. (I can have very negative reactions to even benign touching, such as a pat on the hand) However the fact that the only people who are considered "too large" are those who are larger around the waist seems to indicate that this is not about their seatmates' comfort (not to mention the horrific way the airline handled it). I have found that people who large in this regard try to be accommodating to my space, and that belly fat doesn't move everytime they shift their weight, or reach for something or change position. I would much rather sit next to them then a growing teenager who doesn't know where his elbows are.

However if airlines are going to do things for the "comfort" of passengers, those policies need to be clear and consistent and carried out in the most considerate way possible. Not too mention, have common sense (your plane is overbooked, so you're going to demand that someone buy two seats, when there's already a shortage? How does that even make sense?)

17 inches

So I went on SW Air's website and their FAQ states that the seat width is 17 inches. I pulled out a measuring tape and looked at what 17 inches actually is. It's tiny! I am size-privileged, I will never have to purchase an extra seat if I were to ever fly on SW Air, and 17 inches is almost too narrow for me. So I started wondering how the airline's seats compare to other seats. I went around the small college that I work at and I couldn't find a single seat that was under 19 inches. Some were even up to 24 inches across. Aside from revenue, why did SW Air ever decide to make their seats only 17 inches across?

I think airline seats in

I think airline seats in general are smaller than seats everywhere else, however I suspect Southwest's would be even tinier. Given the amount of extra fees airlines are charging now, it probably is revenue related.

Tall people

I'm a shorter person, and although I'm fat for my height (on the low end of obese in BMI) I still fit comfortably in plane seats without overhanging anywhere. I've had way more bad experiences on planes sitting next to tall people than fat people. Tall people's butts and hips may not overhang their seats, but their limbs encroach on my space; their elbow and forearm is usually hanging over the armrest, next to or against my breast (which is basically just above armrest height due to my shortness) unless I turn away, and their legs are spread so wide they press fairly aggressively against my thigh.

It makes me uncomfortable both physically (because now I basically have 3/4 of my seat instead of the whole thing) and mentally (normally I would never let anyone that close to my legs or chest except my husband), but I don't say anything because I know the plane seats are uncomfortably small for them. But I do feel somewhat resentful because it often feels like the tall people (usually men) don't even make any type of effort at avoiding taking up my space.

It's just anecdotal, but the times I recall being next to a fat person vs. next to a tall person, the fat people tend to seem to be way more sensitive about trying not to encroach, and they tend to lean away when they can, but I imagine that's due to how much shaming fat people get about their bodies. Nobody ever tells tall people they should buy another seat for the "comfort and safety" of their overhanging limbs.

I think that the FAA needs to

I think that the FAA needs to standardize this; it would be so much easier. Say on plane A the seat is X inches wide, anyone with torso measurements exceeding Y (calculated based on X) has to buy a second seat. That way, everyone knows where they stand. If the airline wants to argue, they can pull out a tape measure, which, yes, could be humiliating, but at least it would be enforceable, and it would be the same policy on every airline, so there would be less confusion.

I'm a passenger of size

A few points from the fat end of things:

1) It may come as a surprise to some people, but humiliation and mistreatment do NOT inspire fat people to want to lose weight.

2) People who are fat generally do not need to be publicly informed of the fact.

3) Being fat in public is already punishable by humiliation in many everyday situations and from many everyday douchebags. We don't actually need corporations going out of their way to join the fun.

4) No one has ever been asked to buy a second seat because he or she is tall, or possessed of many bulging muscles.

5) Trust me, if I can avoid flying and sitting next to you, I will do so. If I'm on your flight it's just as uncomfortable for me as it is for you.

Oddly enough, Southwest is

Oddly enough, Southwest is about the only carrier I use. I'm 5-9, 215ish, so a BIG girl. I have wide shoulders and hips, big thighs and butt, etc.

I've never been singled out or even questioned by a Southwest attendant. Yet. But this trend of other people being mistreated scares me quite a bit.

"Lol, let's release an

"Lol, let's release an article mocking fat people for an esoteric feeder fetish and then pretend we still care about fat people."



So as a society we must now give up part of our seats to fat people so they won't feel fat? But they are fat. And they are fat because they eat too much bad food. Why not give them my dinner too, since they won't fill up with one dinner. Personal responsibility anyone? STOP BEING FAT! The shame you feel is evolution calling; no one wants to breed with a fat person. Why? They are unhealthy and gross.

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