- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

Southwest Airlines insisted yesterday that it has long charged larger passengers for an extra seat, despite statements from airline officials a day earlier that it would begin doing so later this month.
"The policy always has been that they have to purchase an additional seat," said Southwest spokeswoman Beth Harbin. "I've been here for eight years, and I've always known about it."
However, several company officials said earlier this week that a policy effective June 26 would require large passengers who couldn't fit comfortably into one seat to buy an extra ticket and that agents will be expected to make a "judgment call" about the size requirement.
After The Washington Times reported the policy yesterday, Southwest officials said the company had had it since 1980.
Southwest, which flies out of 58 U.S. cities and is the largest carrier out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, has come under fire for the policy. Media nationwide jumped on the story yesterday, inundating Southwest with phone calls.
The American Obesity Association is considering legal action or asking Congress to prohibit the two-ticket policy, Executive Director Morgan Downey told the Associated Press yesterday.
Miriam Berg, president of the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination, said she was interviewed 35 times yesterday about the policy.
Miss Berg said the policy will backfire and passengers will take their business elsewhere.
"When an airline sells you a ticket, they're selling you passage from point A to point B," she said. "Now that they're saying they're selling you inches of space, they've got to put that in their advertising."
She said airlines seats should be able to accommodate the growing number of larger Americans.
Southwest's seats are 183/4 inches wide. The airline does not offer passengers first or business class.
Miss Harbin said Southwest is cracking down on a policy that has not been enforced strictly.
She said she didn't know why two Southwest spokesmen this week used June 26 as the effective date of the policy but speculated that it may have been confused with the introduction of paper boarding passes next week.
Miss Harbin said ticket agents can indicate on the new boarding passes that a passenger will need an extra seat.
Southwest spokeswoman Christine Turneabe-Connelly said Tuesday that ticket agents used to allow larger customers to pay for one ticket if the flight was not full.
She said enforcement of the policy was the result of studies beginning in 2000 finding that many customers complained when part of their seat was taken up by a large passenger.
Steve McAllister, a professional services executive for a software company, was told before boarding a Southwest flight from Sacramento to Burbank, Calif., that he needed to purchase an extra ticket under a new policy. The Sacramento Bee reported the story Monday.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 350-pound man told The Washington Times yesterday he was offended and had never before been asked to buy an extra ticket.
"So the question I then asked was, 'Why are you trying to charge me for an extra seat now?'" Mr. McAllister said.
The ticket agents couldn't answer him and relented, telling him "the policy wasn't supposed to kick in for another couple of weeks," Mr. McAllister said.
"It was pretty clear that they hadn't really thought this through," he said.
The Air Transport Association, which includes major carriers, does not have a policy, but some airlines impose extra charges on larger passengers.
United Airlines' policy is to charge larger customers for two seats if the passenger can't fit comfortably into one, spokesman Joe Hopkins said.
US Airways spokesman David Castelveter also said passengers who cannot fit into one seat will be charged for an extra, but, if the flight is not full, "I've not seen a situation where we've charged them for the extra seat."
Mr. McAllister called such policies unfair and said the airlines are to blame for not making seats wider.
Southwest says ticket agents will be discreet in enforcing the policy.
But Mr. McAllister, a former college football player, said the customer service agents made a "laughingstock" of him.
"They're the only industry that if you complain about customer service, they can put you in jail," Mr. McAllister said.

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