Southwest Airlines really is in a bit of a quandry. In many cases an airline
passenger is dissatisfied with their service when faced with the unpleasant situation of having
"another passenger take up half of what you've paid for." It is understandable that
they choose to complain about the situation. After all, they are paying customers and they
should be comfortable on their flights.
I find it interesting that Southwest claims to its plus-sized passengers that the airline is met with the task of "transportation," not
"real estate," where the "main objective is not luxury; its main objective is quality discount air travel."
Yet this same airline is more than eager to address issues of "comfort" with its so-called
On more than one occasion, usually during a lengthy overnight flight, I have had to deal with the traveller behind me pushing her feet against my
seat, while the passenger in front of me reclines his seat into my chest. I have had passengers
next to me with extremely long, sharp elbows that jut into my sides because they're too long
and lanky to fit within their allotted 17 inches. Now, I could choose to
complain about the long-legged people behind me, the lazy person in front of me, or the
gangly fellow next to me, who clearly should be doing something about that elbow
problem of his.
But I do none of these things, because I understand that it is not the passengers'
fault; rather it is the airline who has designed its planes to fit the maximum number of sardines.
The fact of the matter is, few people fit comfortably in an airline seat. Few people fit into
any standardized box we present to them. There will always be the person in front of you who
likes to leave the light on, the baby two aisles down crying over the in-flight movie, the person beside you with horrendous body odor.
Despite all these scenarios, and more, I have no doubt that the majority of complaints of Southwest customers have to do with the
weight of the person next to them. For it is true, as Marina Michaels said, that "Fat people
are one of the last 'acceptable' targets for prejudice" (Two Cents). On school playgrounds,
in malls and restaurants, at the job and in movies the message is perfectly clear: the only
people who are responsible for their lot in life are the fatties; let's get 'em.
This is not to suggest that an obese person is helpless, or that they have nothing to do with
their weight. However, the 6 ft tall body-builder with 26-inch biceps (whose arms
also happen to take up two seats) will undoubtedly go unnoticed. The modifications made to his body are
regarded as acceptable, if not aesthetically pleasing.
With regard to clothing manufacturers, there is never a difference in price between small and
medium, medium and large, large and x-large articles of clothing. Why, then, the sudden jump
at the plus-sized level? It's the difference in fabric costs, of course! Yet petite-sized businesswomen don't get discount suits because they
use less fabric. In some cases, retailers will charge more for a suit of less fabric, if they have to design it
to fit a non-average size.
Will the airlines give discounts to petite customers, as they do for children? Of course not; paying attention to matters of size, in this case, would cost them money, rather than create a profit.
The fact of the matter is, they don't charge more for the extra seat, just like a clothing manufacturer isn't really charging more for the material. They charge
more because they can.