Too fat to fly on Alaska Airlines
Please note: This is a personal blog post and not terribly related to public relations. If that’s cool, read on. If not, here’s a bunny with a pancake on its head.
I’m fat. Not in the “self deprecating, say I need to lose 10 lbs even though I really don’t” kind of way. But in the “buy clothes from special stores and websites” kind of way. I have moments where I am suddenly and harshly reminded of my size, like the time I broke a chair in front of some of the world’s most influential consumer taste makers. Or when I couldn’t sit on the chaise lounge at the pool next to my wife.
But while flying back from Las Vegas and BlogWorld 2010, I was reminded of my size in a way I knew would eventually happen, but wasn’t really prepared for. As the plane was still at the gate due to a weather delay, the gate agent appeared next to me. She initiated our interaction by thrusting a pamphlet in my hand.
“Here, I first have to give you this.”
I look down and it is a pamphlet explaining how to buy two seats. The gate agent then says that one of the flight attendants has felt I am too large for the standard coach seat (which I totally am, but that’s not the point of this) and am in violation of the airline’s fat person policy. I ask what the standard is for this determination. “Well, the seats are 17 inches in coach and 22 inches in first class,” she tells me.
That wasn’t my question. What standard was used to determine that I was too big? Simple answer: There isn’t one. Alaska Airlines’ policy is subjective and selectively enforced. Two factors that render any policy completely useless and unfair in my opinion. In order for a policy to be useful, it needs to be objective, measurable and standardized.
The subjective interpretation of comfort is based on an anonymous flight attendant’s theory. And that’s just wrong.
I’m not debating whether or not I am fat. But I am upset by the selective enforcement of this “policy.” I made it clear that there were several other people on the flight that clearly didn’t fit into the 17 luxurious inches coach offers. There was even somebody who clearly didn’t fit in the 22 amazing inches first class offers.
The gate agent then says I can “offer cash to one of the people in first class” in order to switch seats. No. That’s not fair to either of us. How does this conversation go? “Hi, I’m Eric, I’m too fat to fly coach, can I give you $20 to sit in the back with the rest of the unwashed masses?” Nope.
Now, my wife was on the flight as well, along with our infant daughter in first class. I could have simply asked her to switch me and taken care of Kylah myself. But she needed to eat and breast feeding isn’t really conducive to coach. Neither is a diaper change, so I opted to not make her part of this.
Of course I protest. I was pissed about being singled out. I was pissed about the lack of tact displayed by the flight attendants who resorted to anonymously tattling on my fat ass. I am pissed about the lack of class Alaska Airlines shows with its policy. I ask if the person next to me has been consulted in the matter. Of course she hadn’t.
And I had no problem asking her. In fact, my standard airplane boarding practice goes like this: awkward looks from people as I pass their rows. Apologies to whomever is in front of me as they can’t put their seat back, apologies to the person unfortunate enough to be seated next to me and then I humbly ask the nearest attendant for a seat belt extender.
So, my options were now: Pay somebody in first class to switch, get kicked off the plane or force my wife and infant daughter back into coach. Which would you choose? On my way up to discuss the situation with my wife, I pointed out several other people who should also have been forced to buy an additional seat. I was assured that they would be spoken to and presented the same information. Of course this didn’t happen.
After some discussions, the gate agent finally asked my neighbor if she had any problem with her next to me. Luckily she didn’t care and I was free to take my seat and wait out the weather delay. Of course I was embarrassed, agitated and missing my wife who was 27 rows in front of me.
Again, I’m not trying to deny my size. I get it. I don’t fit normal places. Try going to dinner with me and watch me apologize for my knees bumping the table. But what I do have a problem with is the unfair enforcement of an arbitrary rule. If standards exist or something can be uniformly enforced, then I agree with it. Have everyone pass through a 17-inch-wide opening before they get on the plane for all I care. Just be consistent.
So, Alaska Airlines, what do you say? I don’t want you to fix it for me. I want you to fix it for everyone.