kenlie-tiggeman

Woman told she was 'too fat to fly' sues Southwest Airlines

May 4, 2012 at 3:32 PM ET

Kenlie Tiggeman, who made headlines last year after being told by a Southwest Airlines gate agent that she was "too fat to fly," is suing the airline after it happened again.

Tiggeman, a New Orleans woman who once weighed more than 400 pounds and blogs about her successful quest to lose weight, says her biggest gripe is with the inconsistency of the airline’s “Customer of Size” policy.

“The problem I have with Southwest is not that they may want me to purchase two seats. It’s that sometimes they want that, and other times they don’t,” Tiggeman wrote Thursday in her blog.

After the first incident last spring, in which Tiggeman said a Southwest ticket agent told her in front of a gate full of passengers that she couldn't fly unless she purchased a second seat, an airline representative contacted her to apologize. She accepted the apology and agreed to fly on Southwest again, traveling on two more occasions — in a single seat — without any problems.

But in November 2011, she took another Southwest flight and was once again told that she was “too fat to fly,” Tiggeman said. Frustrated, she decided to take action.

“Paying double because a gate agent may or may not have something against overweight people is not realistic…nor should it be necessary.”

Tiggeman, 31, notes that she has never had issues like this with any other airline. She says her legal action is not about money — she is not seeking damages — in the suit she filed April 20 on her own in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Lafourche in Louisiana. She simply wants the carrier to clarify its policy.

"As a consumer, I may not have been born with the innate right to fly, but as a consumer who is willing to pay, I do have a right to understand the rules clearly at the point of purchase," Tiggeman said.

"[Right now], it’s left to interpretation. So if they can take the guess work out of it then everyone will be better off moving forward and that’s what I’m trying to accomplish."

When contacted for comment, Southwest Airlines said its rules covering “Customers of Size” are clearly spelled out online.

“Our policy and FAQ is pasted on our website and communicated to customers, when applicable. It's a [part] of our contract of carriage,” said spokeswoman Brandy King.

The airline advises that passengers who “encroach upon any part of the neighboring seat(s)” must book an additional seat. The armrest is considered the definitive boundary between seats.

But Tiggeman insists she can sit in any seat on the plane with the armrests down. She wanted to demonstrate this to the gate agents during one of the incidents, she says, but was turned down.

Fliers who do not reserve a second seat but are deemed to fall under Southwest’s policy may be asked to purchase the additional space before departure, although the airline acknowledges that delivering such news can be embarrassing and says it tries to do so gently.

“It's difficult to deliver or receive a sensitive message, particularly in a setting like an airport, where it’s tough to speak privately. Because discussions about size are sensitive, we've cautioned our Employees to use discretion,” Southwest says on its website.

Tiggeman has received plenty of support on her blog, including comments calling her brave and strong.

“You are absolutely correct that their policies need to be consistent and enforced consistently,” a poster named Erin wrote.

But there were also critical comments.

“Nobody deserves to be embarrassed at the gates. However, I also understand the airline’s perspective. Making clear-cut guidelines is absolutely not as simple as you think it is. The policy could not be based on weight, because people carry [it] so differently,” a commenter named Laura wrote.

Tiggeman says she no longer flies Southwest.

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