The Twitter stream and all the national news is filled with posts about Kevin Smith and his smackdown at the hands of Southwest Airlines. “Too Fat To Fly” is the catchy headline that ABC News led with and the story’s been picked up by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and is the talk of the day on Twitter.
Kevin, who is, without question, a large man, apparently was asked to deplane a SWA flight on Saturday because he is too big to fit into one seat, and two seats, on this particular flight, weren’t available.
The issue, in a nutshell, is that they allowed him to board, be seated, and then made the brilliant decision to say “ummmm, you’re too fat” cleverly masked by “security risk” lingo, and asked him to take a hike. He had been booked on a later flight – with two seats reserved in his name – so it wasn’t like it was a surprise when he wanted to get on an earlier flight that he was a big man. But, instead of identifying a potential problem at the gate, before boarding, SWA dropped the ball, let him board, and then chose to publicly humiliate him.
Ask yourself an honest question – how would you feel if that happened to you? Fat or not fat, I imagine you would be pretty humiliated. I know I would be.
Southwest Air has addressed this “issue” via their latest blog post – which has drawn so much traffic that the site may be down as of this writing. If that’s the case, you can check out the post on their press site. I read the post before their site went down, and assume it makes them feel justified – and absolved of any wrongdoing, simply because they have a policy and they were following it. I don’t fault at all their policy regarding oversized travelers, I do, however, find fault with the way this particular situation was handled.
But, even more importantly, what a great example of how critical it is to have a social media crisis policy in place and to have the highest levels of management and customer service involved, at the onset of a situation like this one. People make noise when they feel they are treated poorly. And when you factor social media into the equation, making noise can soon be a really big deal. And turn into lots and lots and lots of noise. Factor a celebrity into the equation and it could be a nightmare. Ask Southwest Air – I’m sure they would agree. Brands need to be adequately prepared to handle situations like this and minimize exposure – and damage – whenever possible.
Still think your brand doesn’t need a crisis plan? Better think again. Better yet, go back and read Kevin Smith’s Twitter stream, supplied here via a recent post by Mashable’s @petecashmore How would your company have handled this situation?