Thursday, February 16, 2006

Passengers of Size

I don't like talking about things that are playing out in the courts, but once they are over, I figure it's fair game.
If you've picked up a paper lately, or read your news online, you've likely heard about the woman who brought suit against Southwest Airlines claiming racial discrimination.  Southwest responded that while the situation may not have been handled as well as it might have been, the employees involved were merely trying to follow a company policy, and that race was not a factor.
What's the situation?  Southwest's "Person of Size" policy.  The policy requires anyone who cannot sit in the seat, with the arm rests in the down position, to purchase a second seat.  If the flight is not sold out, and the purchased seat would have gone vacant, the price is refunded to the passenger.
After hearing the evidence, the jury agreed that there was no racial discrimination, and ruled in favor of Southwest.
Setting aside the issue of race, since the jury ruled that was not a factor in the policy, I'm trying to decide how I feel about the "Person of Size" policy.
As a flight attendant, I have certainly heard complaints from people in seats that were encroached by the passenger in an adjacent seat.  It is difficult to be sensitive in handling the matter and balance all competing interests graciously.
As a passenger traveling on a pass, I have been the person put in that seat, and have been squashed to the point of having virtually no room.  Since I'm traveling for free, I guess I really shouldn't complain.
How are the rights of individuals (in purchasing the right to be transported from Point A to Point B) balanced?  Does this policy discriminate against people of size?


Flygirl said...

I know my opinion on this subject but I don't know if I want to post it here for all to much controversy! :)

Fly Girl said...

Ah, c'mon. What's the job (or the blog) without a little controversy.

Dru said...

I've never been in a position where I had to deal with a large passenger, nor am I large. I feel that if you're taking up two seats (or encroaching into a second seat) that you should be paying for two. It just makes sense.

"omis" said...

AA used to have a policy that allowed the customer to purchase a second seat for 1/2 the price of the first.

As long as the price of the seat is reasonable, I don't think it's unreasonable to have this policy, at least on full flights.

It isn't fair to the person squeezed in next to the large person. They paid for comfort, too. Or at least for their share of seat space.

Airline seats are a commodity, airlines are for-profit private enterprises. They make a lot of other accommodations for special needs passengers, as they should.

But on this one, I agree with SW's policy.

Flygirl said...

ok, ok...I definately think they should have to buy a second seat. I've seen too many people who payed a fare price for their seat be squashed by some heavy person for the entire flight. It's not discrimination, it's reality.

Anonymous said...

I always thought the "passenger of size policy" was wrong and discriminatory until I was seated next to a large person. While it was a short two hour flight, I was literally pressed up against this person and it was uncomfortable and embarrassing. I couldn't move or listen to the in-flight entertainment because the armrest was up all the time and there was no way to reach it. If she didn't have to pay for two seats (even thought she took up much of mine), then I should get a discount for not taking up all of one seat. It's only fair.