Saturday, December 19, 2009

two seats

I was at the NAAFA convention (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) in Atlanta in 2002, the year that Southwest Airlines began enforcing their policy of making large--I think specifically "obese"--passengers pay for an extra seat if deemed necessary by their staff. It was the first time an airline had done this, although (as I understand it) most airlines had/have such policies in place, just not overtly enforced at that point. The clueless way the Southwest rep handled the press conference, as well as my perception of the general attitude of the company, made me determined to never fly their airline again, and I didn't for almost five years.

Now, though, things have changed, the main point being that I have accepted the idea of paying for two seats. I'm not thrilled, but I am willing to do it, for the comfort and safety of me and others and for my peace of mind. The last time I flew with just one seat (it was on Ted/United) a man pitched a fit and held up the plane--take-off was delayed for 15 minutes--as five flight attendants and customer service reps clustered around him and he complained about sitting next to me. Never again, and I hope that meathead continues to dodge bad karma.

The funniest part is that Southwest has become my airline of choice and I am extremely loyal to them. It turns out that having taken the step early on, the airline is much better accustomed to dealing with passengers of size. They have practice at dealing with the situation, and do so in a quiet, efficient fashion. They don't pretend the situation doesn't exist, they just manage it--no big deal. Their flight attendants hand out seat extenders, no fuss, and you are given a ticket to put in the tray table latch of your second seat to eliminate confusion about the "empty" spot. The airline makes every effort to refund you the cost of the second ticket if there is any empty room or non-working airline staff on the plane, and do so quickly, usually in less than four days. I appreciate that particular gesture on their part enormously--it really changes the flavor of this transaction in which I cough up twice the normal fare.

Most importantly, you are allowed to pre-board, so that you can get your two seats together.

Together. You wouldn't think that'd be necessary, but some airlines make large passengers buy two seats these days, then fight them about the second seat. I'm not going to name names, since the experiences aren't my own, but I have heard more stories these days from people I know flying on other airlines who buy two tickets only to have to defend the second spot. Flight attendants--caught in a fight with gate staff, sometimes--try to give it away, ask to give it away, challenge the passenger, sometimes don't even let them board at a time when they can find two seats next to each other. I've even heard of people who bought seats giving up their extra seat with no compensation, at the urging of flight attendants.

This shit makes me insane with fury. Not to mention it's slightly insane, period (would you like your two seats together, or many rows apart, sir?). If you make passengers of size buy two tickets, you actually can not give away the second seat to somebody else, nor make it impossible to use. What is the point? These policies have to be clear right up front, and the customer shouldn't be caught in the mess as airline staff tries to be "tactful" and tramples all over customer rights in the meantime. Not to mention if the airlines are so concerned about other passengers' comfort, why aren't they ensuring the second seat is used as bought? Aren't they trying to obviate situations where people are squished together uncomfortably? More than usual, I mean.

There is a really nasty flavor to this kind of terrible customer service. Bullying and shaming and dishonest. Unfair. Grinding up people in corporate waffling. Decide what you are trying to do, airlines.

I feel have reached a state of pretty happy détente with Southwest. I make my good faith gesture of coughing up for an extra seat, they reciprocate by refunding me for the gamble if they can. It's not perfect--I had to concede something significant to do it, and, note, there are no frequent flyer miles attached to the second seat if you pay for it--but I'm just fine with it so far. Goddang.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Four words: Amtrak is your friend.

Elizabeth M. Tamny said...

yeah mon! plus one can walk around! this is nice.

seating still an issue there--sometimes--but just not the same thing.

renton said...

Congrats on your detente with Southwest. Encourage your friends with bad experiences on other airlines to name names (or to allow you to).

We all should be spared the experience of flying with airlines that are that clueless.

Orange said...

Imagine my surprise when I followed a link from Roger Ebert's Twitter feed and found a college classmate! Hi, Liz. Amy (Zekas) Reynaldo here. Your writing rocks.

Mat said...

As long as you're buying two seats, they need to be accommodating, period. I have no patience for the hefty not having to buy two seats; let's be honest and accept that the size and fuel necessary is not without a need for a second seat.

Having read your post, there is no excuse whatsoever for the airlines. You're paying double when flying, and you should get both damn seats. No exception.

I really loathe the airline industry, and I really enjoy that they are being better regulated now. It seems we're going to have a greater percentage of the obese for a while, and I think what SW has figured out should once again set the industry lead.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

good post.

liberalandproud said...

Way to miss the point, Mat!

Scott said...

Wow. Considering how common this issue must be, you'd think they would have the logistics in place. They should be more mindful of the way they treat customers.

lynne Jordan said...

I am an obese person - may as well get it out there - I am a fat person - I am a big person - whatever - anyway, I have never been told to buy a second seat and I am unsure how I would feel about it. But I guess you just live your life and do what you need to do...

Loving your blog!! Found it thru Roger Ebert.

returnofthesmith said...

Easier option, lose some weight.

altopower said...

I didn't know that Southwest would 1)let us board early so we could actually get both seats together, or 2)would actually refund $$ in cases where that actually applies. I may rethink flying them after all.

I'm obese and have lost 70 lbs in the last year, but I'm still uncomfortable squished in the seats and am willing to pay for 2 seats for my own comfort. And yeah, hate it when the airlines try to pressure me to give it away for their convenience.

Good post.

Elizabeth M. Tamny said...

Hey Amy! :) Nice to see you. Go chicago-carls.

- - - - - - - - -

To make it really clear, I don't resent the purchase of two tickets anymore. I don't think as a solution it's a particularly great sign of how airlines are handling their financial state (nickel- and dime-ing in general, I mean), but I am perfectly fine with doing it. Especially with Southwest. Other airlines, though...

It's not just the fact that other airlines don't have a better way of tracking second seat purchases, it's that they visit their confusion on the customer at all. Even if they're nice as hell, it still sucks to have that kind of attention drawn to yourself when you're showing up and doing your part.

Better logistics is definitely the goal!