The slimmest airline around got on the wrong side of a very important fat man this week. Booking a flight on Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) Saturday, movie star Kevin Smith, famous for his role as Silent Bob in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," adhered to company policy for persons of his girth.
Kevin Smith bought two tickets on his regional flight. He had also put himself on the standby list for an earlier flight. Smith got the seat, but the pilot determined that Smith needed more than one seat to fly safely because he is fat (and, according to Smith, because the pilot probably didn't like his movies). Smith was therefore taken off the plane (see CNN's "Too Big to Fly"). He was offered $100 for his troubles, but Southwest Airlines got more than it bargained for as Mr. Smith took to the internet with his complaints. Before the weekend was out, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance was calling for a boycott of Southwest, and suggesting Smith's fans switch to a more accommodating carrier.
Southwest was the only airline remaining even remotely profitable over the last 37 years consecutively. Southwest differentiated itself early as a low-cost carrier with tremendous customer service. For example, watch this video of a rapping flight attendant. Also, each plane has a heart inscribed next to the door. I am sure by now it is clear that this is no ordinary corporate culture.
Southwest flies only regional, non-stop flights. They beat other carriers on cost by standardizing and owning their planes. Maintenance is performed by employees, and airplanes are turned around faster on the runway than any other airline. Tickets are available on a first-come first-serve basis, and there are no assigned seats. Unlike the extinct People's Express, Southwest never got greedy. It stuck to its core competency of cheap, regional flights and remained profitable even in the aftermath of 9/11.
(10-year price chart courtesy of Fool.com)
Southwest has always demonstrated incredible focus in its operations. Instead of competing with other airlines, they created short, cheap flights which really compete with car traffic. Low cost and quality service have always been their hallmark, leaving me astonished that Kevin Smith was treated so poorly.
This is most likely a hiccup in an otherwise stellar history of customer service.
Disclosure: This author does not own any equities discussed in this article.