Looks like Southwest Airlines isn’t feelin’ the LUV — at least not for celebrity seatmates of size. Especially when said seatmate is Kevin Smith, the famously foul-mouthed multi-hyphenate (i.e., actor-director-screenwriter-blogger-tweeter-author-podcaster).
Clearly, they should have picked on someone a bit less loquacious. Heck, all the wardrobe-challenged Kyla Ebbert did after getting the onboard boot was pose for some photo ops, one with Sir Richard Branson, and some time later, several with, um, a smile.
The issue, currently ricocheting around the Twittersphere and every other social-media platform on the planet, is that Smith was asked to leave an Oakland–Burbank flight over the weekend because he was too big to fit in a single seat. “I’m way fat,” tweeted Smith as the situation unfolded. “But I’m not THERE just yet.”
According to Smith, he was able to lower his armrests — the de facto test for seat suitability — and the passengers on either side of him were OK with the situation. Nevertheless, the airline cited safety concerns and ejected him from the plane. The good news is that even though he lost his seat, he maintained his sense of humor, later tweeting: “I've landed in Burbank. Don't worry: wall of the plane was opened & I was airlifted out while Richard Simmons supervised.”
End of story, right? Are ya nuts? Here it is, a few days later, and the incident is still generating more than its fair share of sound and fury. Southwest has apologized via blog, tweet and press release; Smith has said piss off (albeit a lot more colorfully) in multiple media, and people of every race, creed and Body Mass Index have ... expressed their feelings on the subject.
Me? I wasn’t there, so I don’t really know what happened. But I do know that the echo chamber that constitutes the world of social media is out of control when this is what occupies the airwaves. Smith’s a spoiled celebrity, rants one poster. Southwest is size-ist, screams another. Back and forth it goes, ad nauseum, at least until Richard Heene or Jon Gosselin opens his mouth and the social-media-circus moves on.
Hopefully, it will do that soon (and, yes, I realize I’m the proverbial pot calling the clangorous kettle black here, but I promise to let it go after this). In the meantime, perhaps the situation offers a bit of a teachable moment for both parties.
For Kevin Smith: Perhaps you could take your cues from your most famous character, Silent Bob, who handles most of the trials of daily life with a shrug, roll of the eyes or other non-expletive-dependent gesture. I’m sure Christian Bale had a valid point when he went off on that crewmember on the set of “Terminator Salvation,” but the blitzkrieg of f-bombs definitely weakened his case.
For Southwest: If you’ve got a policy regarding seatmates of size — as the airline notes it has for 25 years — apply it consistently. Word is Mr. Smith flew in a single seat on his outbound flight without a problem, and unless he packed on several more pounds between the two flights, he was either too fat to fly both ways or neither. On a related note, you might also want to take a page from Mark Twain and avoid picking fights with a man who produces content by the gigabyte.
Unfortunately, I fear this problem will remain a hot-button issue as long as large butts meet narrow seats. (Full disclosure: According to my bathroom scale, I’m usually a few percentage points away from being clinically obese, although I think it may be time to change the battery. I also consider myself under-tall, but that’s another issue entirely.) Slideshow: Awful airlines
So, perhaps a new approach is in order, a new system or process that will preclude the need for both onboard ejections and, one hopes, the ensuing online logorrhea. Something like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a ...
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Pre-boarding seat-sizer: You know those carry-on luggage sizing cages in the ticketing hall? Set up a row of seats nearby, plant a pair of average-size mannequins in seats A and C and plop yourself down. If you fit, you fly as is; if you don’t, you buy two seats.
Side-sliding armrests: Forget whether you can get the armrests up or down. Instead, rig them so they can be adjusted side to side with the twist of a handle. Turn it one way and the squeeze is on; turn it the other and, voilà, instant breathing room. Note, though, that the gizmo will be equipped with a coin slot or credit card reader and you’ll be billed (or credited) by the inch.
Larger seats: OK, I’m kidding. The airlines will probably come up with coin- or card-operated, side-sliding armrests before they start pulling seats out of their planes, but a guy can dream, can’t he?
Of course, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, which is why I fear this kerfuffle will continue until all concerned realize there are better uses for their time and energy. Until then, all we can do is count our blessings and be grateful that Silent Bob isn’t taking his cues from Kyla Ebbert.
Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, drop him an e-mail.
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