According to Southwest's policy, a "customer of size" is defined as someone who cannot lower both armrests, which are 17 inches apart, and/or who compromises any portion of adjacent seating.
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Smith showed that he could put down the armrests, and while he hadn't yet fastened his seatbelt, he maintains that he's able to wear a seatbelt without the help of an extender. "And that," Smith proclaimed on his podcast, "is a hallmark for any fat person."
It didn't matter. He was taken off the plane. And that's when the blogging started—and quickly turned into a front- page story about when fat people fly—or attempt to fly.
Southwest then apologized to Smith and refunded his money.
However, in their apology to Smith, Southwest claims that they asked him to leave for the safety of the other passengers on the flight. Brandy King, a spokeswoman for Southwest, says that the airline's policy is clear: "A customer must comfortably within the armrests."
Smith's argument against the policy is that the definition of "comfortably" is fuzzy, but King maintains that Southwest employees are trained to determine whether an overweight passenger needs to purchase an additional seat. Smith is so confident that he is correct that he challenged the airline to bring in a row of seats and test it out on national television. If he doesn't pass the armrest test, he says he'll donate $10,000 to a charity of Southwest's choice. But if he fits, they must admit that they were in the wrong.
Ironically, on his next flight to Burbank, Smith was seated in the same row as a woman who was pulled aside by a flight attendant who suggested she consider buying two seats in the future.
Later, that woman appeared on Smith's podcast to tell her side of the story. According to her, she's a frequent flier who has never had an issue fitting in her seat, and the experience on Southwest was humiliating and handled badly.
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Some have chalked this up to nothing more than a celebrity diva temper tantrum, especially considering that Smith's latest movie, Cop Out, was scheduled for release just days after the incident.
But this fact doesn't change the issue. The question of whether to charge overweight passengers for two seats has been hotly debated in recent years.
Most airlines don't have official policies but will cite the rule from the Federal Aviation Administration: Passengers must be buckled in their seat during takeoff, landing and during turbulence. If you can't fasten your seat belt with the help of an extender, you can't fly.
That rule, of course, doesn't address the comfort of other passengers. A securely fastened seat belt doesn't guarantee that a larger passenger won't crowd into the space of their more diminutive seat mates.