“Crushed” by an XL passenger on a Southwest flight

By | February 27th, 2009

It’s not every day that I republish a complaint letter in its entirety. Then again, it’s not every day that an airline does the right thing without yours truly getting involved.

Maybe it was the letter. Or maybe it was the fact that the airline in question was Southwest, which has the best reputation for customer service among the domestic airlines.

You decide …

I’m a long term Southwest customer who has just had his first problem in decades and I want to let you know about it.

I always fly Southwest, and I always make a point of checking in early at the airport. That way, I receive a low Southwest boarding pass number, am able to board before the plane fills up, and take the aisle seat in the last row. Then, even if the plane is nearly full, I often end up with an empty seat beside me, and I like having the extra room.

The flight in question was #993 from Sacramento, CA (SMF) to Ontario, CA (ONT), departing Sacramento at 1:00 PM on January 30, 2009. Here’s what happened…

As usual, I arrived early for the flight, procured my usual back row aisle seat, then watched and hoped as the plane filled. Eventually, a man took the window seat in my row. He was what Southwest calls (I believe) “a passenger of size”. He was huge. He couldn’t get his seatbelt on, or the armrest between him and the middle seat down, but hey… no skin off my nose. We had an empty seat between us, and I assumed that one of the attendants would deal with his seatbelt problem.

The plane filled, and as luck would have it there ended up being a single empty seat on the flight… the one between me and the window seat passenger in my row. Then, a Southwest employee came on from outside the plane, walked down the center aisle looking for empty seats, noted the open seat in my row, and walked back off the plane. A minute or two later, another passenger came aboard and attempted to shoehorn himself into that center seat. Because the window seat passenger was sprawled into the center seat, there wasn’t enough room for the new passenger. The only way he could fit was by raising the armrest between his center seat and my aisle seat, leaving me crushed against the aisle-side armrest.

The irritating and inexcusable thing is that your attendant stood in the area beside the rear restroom, watched this whole fiasco, and didn’t say or do a thing to help. I felt as if he was waiting for me or the passenger in the center seat to complain about the “passenger of size” in the window seat before taking any action, and that’s not fair to us. It’s not my job as a passenger to challenge and perhaps embarrass another passenger who should never have been allowed on the flight in the first place without buying two seats.