Tech Talk Tuesday: Kevin Smith, Southwest Airlines and Fatitude

02.16.10

Yes I did. I called it a fatitude.We have a collective attitude about fat, and individually everyone has one. Some of us whisper our opinions, this week Southwest Airlines and Kevin Smith are very vocal about their fatitudes.

Do not be deceived. Kevin Smith’s row with Southwest Airlines is not about fat, it’s about deciding who your customers are. The story is (yippee) once again about technology in our every day lives.

For those of you who are not as totally in love with the internet as I, let me bring you up to speed. Kevin Smith is a film writer, actor and producer. He is a hard working guy, made famous by the movie Clerks, however I know that the best day of his acting career was when I visited the set of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Really, I have it on good authority that this was the best day of his working life.

What is not disputable is that Kevin Smith is a celebrity who is clever, hardworking, successful and fat.

Kevin Smith was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for being too fat.

Ouch a personal dig at Captain Leysath.

And why do you think that is? I say it’s fatitude. Kevin Smith knows he’s fat. Obviously, the man spends his life surrounded by cameras. Now, how does Kevin feel about being fat?

On February 13, 2010 Kevin Smith clearly felt humiliated by his fatness. Well, maybe not by his size, but certainly by Southwest Airline’s reaction to his size.

Apparently humiliating Kevin Smith on an airplane wasn’t enough for them. Southwest’s blogger Christi Day wrote about the incident on the Southwest Airlines blog. Amongst a few other bits of doublespeak and PR spin she added:

Mr. Smith originally purchased two Southwest seats on a flight from Oakland to Burbank – as he’s been known to do when traveling on Southwest.  He decided to change his plans and board an earlier flight to Burbank, which technically means flying standby. As you may know, airlines are not able to clear standby passengers until all Customers are boarded. When the time came to board Mr. Smith, we had only a single seat available for him to occupy.

It’s nicely written isn’t it? Well, it may or may not be true. According to Kevin it is not true.

“But the last paragraph is still all about your two seat rule. By including it, you guys are still saying I was Too Fat To Fly – or at least NOT correcting it. You even say ‘You’re not here to debate the decision the Employees made.’ But when we spoke, you told me they were wrong, and THAT’S why I was happy and ready to drop all this. I don’t want your money, I just want you to put in print what you told me: that I was grabbed because I was the last guy on, not because I didn’t fit with the arm rests down, or because I couldn’t buckle the seat belt. Because I did. And we both know this.”

When I read that last bit it is identical in tone to the two tweets I have posted above. How? This has nothing to do with an airline flight. This has nothing to do with Kevin’s size. This is about how Southwest Airlines treats people.

Ms. Day’s apology was basically “Kevin we’re really sorry you’re so fat”

Kevin’s complaint is “You’re really hurting my feelings. A lot. Over and over again, just say you’re sorry for hurting my feelings.”

There are two different converstaions being had. Although Southwest is known for listening on twitter, I wonder if anyone is really hearing. Do they get the tone? Kevin Smith called the rest of the world “normies” this isn’t about airline travel.

Matthew Yeomans incorrectly calls this digital populism. The Kevin Smith story would have been a story no matter what. He’s connected, he’s too rich to have to fly Southwest and he’s part of the media. Yeomans also goes on to say:

The combined net effect is that companies find themselves reading attacks on their reputation (whether warranted or not) in the social media sphere before being able to check on the merits of the complaint or how and if they need to rectify it. Sometimes those complaints appear blown out of all proportion (Motrin Moms anyone?) while other times they simply shine a very bright light on a company’s incompetence in a crisis.

Being present on twitter doesn’t mean you’re listening. It just means you’re there. When someone with 1.6 million readers (that you know of) is thrown out of your business, you’d better be sure you’ve made the right move.

When it comes to airline travel Southwest may be a great airline for many people. I know if I’m on a Southwest flight there’s less of a chance that I’ll have to share my seat with someone who is unable to fit in just one. I guess that’s good for someone like me. What bothers me is that Southwest clearly made a mistake as Kevin hopped onto another of their flights a short bit later and fit in the seat. So if they make a mistake with my seat, my luggage or (heaven forbid) my children should I expect Southwest to write about my personal details?

I think not.

* I changed the link in Matthew Yeomans’ quote because I figured I could use the traffic more than Slate.