Customers have criticized Southwest Airlines for a ‘ridiculous’ policy that gives overweight passengers free seats to accommodate their size.
The airline has instituted a ‘Customer of Size’ policy, which allows overweight passengers whose body takes up more than one seat on the plane to get ‘the needed number of seats’ for free.
The policy states that customers who ‘encroach upon any part of the neighboring seat(s)’ may purchase however many extra seats they need, which will then be refunded at check-in.
The change has provoked mixed feedback among customers.
While some body-positive customers have praised the policy for allowing those with obesity to travel more easily, critics say it’s ‘pandering’ to very overweight people – and gives them an unfair advantage.
On social media, many have pointed out that free space is not available to customers who are very tall and need extra legroom, those traveling with medical equipment or are wheelchair users.
These groups have to pay – often hundreds of dollars – for additional space.
Some have also pointed out that the new rule is likely to worsen the airline’s already hectic boarding process.
Southwest passengers are unable to book seats ahead of time, which often results in a scramble for window and aisle seats when customers make it to the plane.
Southwest’s policy states that customers qualify for the free ticket if any part of their body extends past the seat’s armrest. ‘The armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats,’ it reads. ‘If you’re unable to lower both armrests and/or encroach upon any portion of a seat next to you, you need a second seat.’
‘Our policy does not focus on weight.’
The airline does not ask for customers’ weight or body mass index (BMI), which determines if you are overweight or obese, according to medical guidelines.
The extra seat can be purchased ahead of time while booking online and then refunded, or customers can go to the departures gate and ask about the free seat. If you book the seat online, you still have to see a customer service agent at the airport for refund documents.
‘The purchase of additional seats serves as a notification of a special seating need and allows us to adequately plan for the number of occupied seats onboard,’ Southwest’s policy states.
‘It also helps us ensure we can accommodate all customers on the flight for which they purchased a ticket and avoid asking customers to relinquish their seats for unplanned accommodation.’
Kimmy Garris, a TikToker from Nashville who calls herself a ‘fat solo traveler,’ posted a video of herself asking about the airline’s policy for obese passengers in October.
In the clip, which has more than 900,000 views, the customer service agent gives her an extra ticket for the seat next to her.
@kimmystyled How to use @southwestair customer of size policy. Southwest is the only airline that allows you a second seat at no extra cost even if the flight is FULLY booked. You HAVE to use it at the departing gate when you start your journey. If you don’t use it going out you cant use it flying back. Go to the departing gate agent and kindly ask them to use the customer of size policy. I’ve done this a dozen times and never had an issue or been denied. They will print you a new ticket + a second ticket to put down on your free seat. You will also be allowed to pre board! Enter the aircraft, get your seatbelt extender, and grab your seat! I place the ticket in the seat next to me. I always take the window seat. If anyone tries to sit it in I kindly let them know I have two seats booked. To be honest I almost never get approached because no one wants to sit in the middle seat next to a fat person on a plane 🙃. I’ve heard from others sometimes southwest will just put customer of size in your account so anytime you approach the main ticket gate you’ll get both your tickets at once but this hasn’t happened to me yet. I think this has to do with how “visibly fat” you are. Public airplanes are public transportation and should be accessible and comfortable for us all. I applaud @southwestair for being the only airline with a fair and humane way of flying fat passengers with dignity. We shouldn’t have to pay for two seats. Seats should be larger for all people including tall and pregnant passengers. Since airlines got deregulated it’s been an ADA nightmare. Airlines should also allow wheelchairs in the cabin esp power wheelchairs. This is an access issue at the end of the day and discriminatory to fat and disabled customers. #southwest #southwestairlines #customerofsize #customerofsizepolicy #plussize #plussizetravel #traveltips #plussizetraveltok #traveltok ♬ original sound – Kimmy
She is then seen boarding the plane and putting her extra ticket on the seat next to her so no one can sit there.
In the overlaid caption, Ms Garris states that this policy ‘should be the industry norm.’
She adds: ‘Flying in [sic] public transportation should be more comfortable and accessible for all people including fat and disabled people.’
The latest announcement means the airline has made this perk a company-wide policy.
Critics on social media have blasted Southwest, which does not include free accommodations for tall customers or those who need extra space for medical equipment.
On Twitter, a user named Tuck wrote: ‘They’ve never offered me the seat in front of me because I’m 6’6” and my legs don’t fit?’
‘Sorry but this is b*******. You need the extra space you pay.’
User Curtis Westmoreland said: ‘This is rediculous [sic]. We keep rewarding the problem at the cost of our own comfort.’
Additionally, a Twitter user named ProudPatriot wrote: ‘Glamorizing obesity is not a good look.’
‘So what happens if the “person of size” requests 2 additional seats at the gate and takes the seats you and your partner purchased?’ User SheezThe1 said.