Posted February 16, 2010 10:49 am by with 16 comments

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You have probably heard or are somewhat aware of the Kevin Smith / Southwest Airlines dust up over the past few days. If you haven’t then you are missing an online reputation monitoring and management real life case study unfold right before your eyes.

The main player is screenwriter, film producer, and director Kevin Smith. Smith is famous for his movies Clerks, Dogma, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Zack and Miri Make a Porno. If you have seen any of these movies you know where his sense of humor lies. Let’s just say it’s not family fare. His has developed a loyal following and that following has moved to Twitter where he has nearly 1.7 million followers. When you get to numbers like that and the person who has those numbers is a genuine influencer (not some spammer) there can be genuine power involved.

The other side is Southwest Airlines. Southwest is known for its own irreverent take on flying and has become a strong social media player as well. For those who follow these things, Southwest recently had a changing of the guard in their social media team when Paula Berg left the company. She spent 10 years building Southwest’s blogs and Twitter presence along with managing all reputation issues.

Long story short. Kevin Smith is a large man. As a result, due to a flight change on Saturday flying from Oakland to Burbank Smith was told he had to leave a flight because he did not have two seats to sit in since he apparently cannot meet the single seat standard for Southwest. Then the fur started to fly.

The LA Times reports

The pilot reportedly said Smith was a “safety risk” because he was unable to put down the armrest.

Smith, 39, responded with a barrage of profanity-laced Twitter posts, saying he was treated worse than a terrorist.

“I know I’m fat, but was (the pilot) really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?” he tweeted.

“I broke no regulation, offered no ‘safety risk’ (what, was I gonna roll on a fellow passenger?). I saw someone bigger than me on THAT flight! But I wasn’t about to throw a fellow Fatty under the plane as I’m being profiled. But he & I made eye contact, & he was like ‘Please don’t tell…'”

Smith called the incident embarrassing and vowed to continue tweeting about the airline for telling him he’s “too wide for the sky.”

Southwest responded with

Southwest officials said in a statement that as soon as they became aware of the Twitter posts, they called Smith to offer their “heartfelt apologies,” but also said his removal was for the “safety and comfort of all customers.”

“If a customer cannot comfortably lower the armrest and infringes on a portion of another seat, a customer seated adjacent would be very uncomfortable and a timely exit from the aircraft in the event of an emergency might be compromised if we allow a cramped, restricted seating arrangement,” Southwest said.

Southwest said its “customers of size” policy has been in effect for 25 years and that most airlines have similar rules, but few carriers enforce them.

The airline said it offered Smith a $100 flight voucher, which he said he refused. Smith eventually got on another Southwest flight.

It appears as if Smith and ready to call it a day with this last tweet

So how was this handled on both sides of the ledger? Well, it would be interesting to see what your thoughts are. Companies have policies and sometimes those policies are inconvenient. Customers have rights (and feelings) and have more ways than ever to express their discontent in any situation. This kind of situation is volatile enough but put a celebrity of Smith’s stature (pun intended) in the mix and you have tossed the proverbial gas on the fire.

How would you have handled it? Did Smith overstep his bounds or did Southwest screw up royally? Let’s get your “expert” opinion.

  • Sorry, Kevin, but I’ve been that person sitting next to someone who doesn’t fit into their seat and it’s no fun at all! Southwest could have handled the situation better (i.e. they shouldn’t have waited until he was seated and settled) but I think they’re in the right here.

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  • HA, Didnt hear about this. I am a Kevin Smith fan myself, he has some truly funny movies, cant wait to see the new one Cop Out. Thats a really tough situation. For SW they just so happen to choose to enforce this guideline on someone who has a big following. I think its good they stuck to their guns on the policy since they say it is for safety. Sounds like they need to make the policy more up front about “if your big, you fly first class or 2 coach/business class seats”. Shouldn’t he be flying 1st class anyway? Or private charter?

    • Noah: How wrong are you in your post? Let’s count:

      1) The guideline is you have to be able to put the armrests down on either side. He did.
      2) He had to fly three round trip flights that week. How much money do you thinks he makes if you think private charter is reasonable?
      3) SWA’s policy is that you buy two tickets. There was only one seat left on that flight. He had two tix for a later flight but for some reason he wanted to get home to his wife on Valentines Day.
      4) Southwest doesn’t have 1st class.
      5) The seats for business class are no different than economy – you just get a free drinks voucher.

      All this info is available. Why comment on it if you’re not going to learn the whole story?

      • Les

        What about people that are tall? Southwest did a story how they accommodated Minut
        Bol a 7 foot basketball player. They allowed him to pre-board. I was told this was what I should do so I could get an exit seat, and that is what I did for a while until they changed their policy. The problem now is that if you pre-board you can’t take an exit seat, as they figure you are disabled. It makes a lot of sense to have a short person take a exit seat and let the tall person squeeze in as best he can! They accommodate disabled but not someone who is to tall like they said they did with Minut Bol. I am 6’9 and believe me the room is very uncomfortable. I’m sure people don’t like seating next to someone who is tall either. Just being a man takes up more space any way. Are we going to discriminate against a tall person also because it is a safety issue? I think they should have seating by size. A short person shouldn’t have any more space than a tall person. they need rows depending on your height. They need short rows and tall rows.

  • Wow this guy has blown up nicely. The last time I saw blubber boy he was thin. Been a few years of course. Of course money and success equals having new friends. Porterhouse, T-bone, ribeye, filet mignon. Oh and sirloin. Yeah I know those guys. I bet when he goes jogging he leaves potholes. I bet when he goes to a restaurant and looks at the menu, he tells the server “OK”. He probably goes to the tall and fat store. They have miles and miles of fabric, in all shades and colors. But hey, if you want to look thin……you hang out with fat people. A real chubby tubby tub toy he has become. Good luck with your career lard bucket. He-he.
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    • Andrew

      I don’t think that this comment really added anything to the post. You are basically just discriminating against overweight people. I am not overweight, but I think you should rethink before you post – this blog is about sharing knowledge, not poking fun at others.

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  • janet
    • @Janet – Just goes to show how opportunistic our culture is.

      As far as from a social media and online reputation monitoring perspective, however, I disagree that Kevin Smith doesn’t have to take this. By being an extremely popular and influential player in the social media space (1.7 mil followers on twitter) he has opened himself up to the god the bad and the ugly of that position. If he had not said anything on Twitter then there would have been very few people who even knew this happened. Now he has allowed himself to be “positioned” or “portrayed” by everyone and the first thing they go after is the focus of this event: his weight.

      I’m not saying it’s a good thing but I am saying that there are new realities in our social media charged world and none of us have had enough experience to be able to see what might happen if we decide to “take a stand”.

      The whole incident has been a good learning experience if unfortuantely at Mr. Smith’s expense.

      Thanks for coming by!

  • janet

    ps he should take joe up on his offer. he helped me do it

  • Andrew

    I think the reason he is so mad is that he has flown 10 flights during the week with Southwest, and was not kicked off. He also asked the people next to him if there was a problem with their comfort, and they were both comfortable. Also it was only a one hour flight.

    I understand the rules of safety and whatnot, but I think Kevin was right to be upset. He was able to lower the chair arms and buckle without using a seat belt extender. I believe someone on the plain just did not like who he was as a person and was against some of his movies and made a complaint.

    Many of his movies have been protested and he is banned from some theaters, so I truly believe the act was because of a dislike for him, not his weight.

  • My husbands airline charges you for 2 seats if the armrest will not go down. seems fair!

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