Kevin Smith v. SWA. Still Think You Don’t Need a Social Media Crisis Plan?

Kevin Smith v. SWA. Still Think You Don’t Need a Social Media Crisis Plan?

By: Shelly Kramer
February 15, 2010

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?

  • When/If a company has a Social Media Crisis Policy, all employees involved in social media need to be aware. Unfortunately for Southwest, this employee doesn't understand social media and chose to attack me on my blog for my satirical “story” of the situation.

  • ShellyKramer

    I saw it. And actually read your blog post earlier this evening, before writing my own. It was clear you were making fun, at least ot me, but everyone has their hot buttons, and apparently you struck a nerve with your satire. Think of it this way – great debate is great for the community of your blog 🙂

  • I think you hit the crux of this matter in the actual incident with the point that he had scheduled 2 seats, when changed to this flight they dropped the ball by not being aware, and their handling of the subsequent situation was humiliating and poorly done. But incidents in any business are going to happen, and their subsequent handling via social media at least shows their awareness of it's importance in PR. Nice post, Shelly.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks, Roger. And I totally agree re the “accidents happen” statement – it is inevitable. I just think that they could have handled this better – and can't quit thinking about how awful I would feel being called out for being heavy – or anything – in this manner. Appreciate the read and comment – you're a dear.

  • It's a good post. Thanks. And yes, it's a good thing that SWA has a social media team and reached out to this passenger after seeing his tweets.

    The story reads as a good reminder that social media only accelerates the spread of a story your company creates. In this case, SWA's employees created a story that…spread like wildfire as too many people could identify in too many ways with the poor treatment of this passenger.

    I guess I'm just wondering how the situation reached that point. It sounds like Kevin is a regular flyer with SWA, regularly reserves 2 seats with each flight, and had done so on this flight as well.

    One would think that somehow SWA would be able to recognize here's a passenger who regularly pays double-fare, would have seen there were…two seats to move to a new flight…and having humiliated him…done something far more meaningful than throw some money at him and hope he goes away and post an apology that was more self-serving than apologetic.

    Then SWA would have created a more compelling story, a story that did more than just cover all the seats of those involved.

  • ShellyKramer

    I love it when the reply is even better than the original post, Zane! And agree completely. So much could have been done with this, but the way SWA chose to handle it seemed lame, at best. It's not like people will quit flying the airline (I know I won't), but it's a smear on their rep that it seems it might have been best to handle differently.

  • If only a few walked in the shoes of another and thought about how someone would feel before taking action.

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