Last week I wrote a news story for EmpowHER about a woman who was removed from a Southwest flight to make room for an extra large passenger who arrived late and needed two seats. The topic was of strong interest to me personally, and it has been fascinating reading the many comments that the story has generated.
(See http://www.empowher.com/wellness/content/thin-passenger-forced-plane-make-room-customer-size )
I used to pretty much live out of a suitcase and spend a lot of time on the road. I've had some challenging experiences, but few have angered me as much as the day I was literally kicked off a plane. I was going from San Jose, California to Phoenix and in a group of passengers on standby status to take an earlier flight. After all the regular passengers got on, they called up the standby passengers, but I missed the cut. I was fine with that and had no problem waiting a couple of hours for my scheduled flight. Suddenly an airline employee said they had found one more seat and I needed to Hurry! Hurry! and I could make the flight.
I grabbed my suitcase and heavy computer bag and ran outside to the stairway up to the plane. (San Jose is a small airport.) In my heels and business suit, I hauled all that stuff up the stairs - fast. The flight attendants were all aflutter going, "Hurry, hurry, we need to take off!" I moved toward the one empty seat, and suddenly a giant man growled at me - "Don't you dare take that seat. I paid for two seats and am taking both of them." I looked for the flight attendant, she came over, and the man growled at her too. She looked at me and said, "You have to get off the plane. You're holding everything up. Get off the plane!"
So with my bags still in tow, and no way to turn around, I backed myself up to the front of the plane and got off. Every eye in the plane was one me as I did this. The flight attendant was after me the entire time, telling me to hurry. I took my bags back down the narrow, steep steel stairway and went back into the airport. I tried to discuss what happened with the airline staff on the ground but they didn't care, they were moving from the station to attend to another flight.
The airline - America West, which is now US Airways - was my "hometown" airline, based in Phoenix. I had already experienced horrendous customer service from them, and knew that contacting them would do no good. I switched my San Jose travel from that point forward to Southwest Airlines, and never had another bad flight.
All these years later thinking about the incident still makes me angry. It's truly sad that the airlines still do not have a system in place to handle large passengers in a dignified manner that will not embarrass the larger person or the regular size person.
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