Flying Fat on Southwest Airlines

fight backIn a recently blog I discussed how Julianne and I were planning to use a trip to Austin to test Southwest Airline’s new policy which is that people who “need two seats” can purchase both of them in advance and then they will refund the extra seat after travel, but that “Customers of size who prefer not to purchase an additional seat in advance have the option of purchasing just one seat and then discussing their seating needs with the Customer Service Agent at their departure gate. If it is determined that a second (or third) seat is needed, they will be accommodated with a complimentary additional seat(s).”

We decided to test the second half of the policy and not buy the extra seat in advance because we don’t believe that fat people should have to have twice as much money as thin people at the time of ticketing for many reasons.  Several commenters asked that I let everyone know how it went so here it is:

Julianne is recovering from a knee injury and when we got to LAX they hurried to find a plus-sized wheelchair while I checked us both in.  They proactively offered us a second seat and pre-boarding and we were on our way.

It was all good until we got to Austin.  They did not have the proper size wheelchair for us and the head of Southwest Customer Service said “We don’t have a bigger wheelchair” with a finality that suggested that this declaration would somehow make Julianne suddenly able to sprint through the airport to baggage claim with her injured knee.  We explained that they needed to do something – check with the wheelchair vendors for the other airlines, call durable medical equipment rental companies etc. because we needed a plus-sized wheelchair, we requested a plus-sized wheelchair, we were promised a plus-sized wheelchair, and we were not about to spend our vacation on the Southwest Airlines Jetway.

While the representative worked to find a solution a member of airport staff walked by us with a plus-sized wheelchair.  I ran to catch up with him and he said that he couldn’t help us because he contracted with a different airline. After more confusion and more work by the customer service representative we had a chair that worked.

We had a great time in Austin (thanks to CJ and Josh for the incredible hospitality) and when we got to the airport for our return trip, Southwest had someone waiting for us with the proper wheelchair and a Julianne’s ticket said “Handle with care.”  The extra seat and pre-boarding were as easy as they had been on the trip out.

Every flight attendant and Southwest employee was polite, professional, and kind.

I have had people criticize me or using Southwest and suggest that I should never use them again because of the massive mistakes they made in the past.  I can certainly understand the sentiment and support whatever decisions people make as they are the boss of their flying underpants.  The reason I decided to give them another try is what I blogged about in depth a couple of days ago:  that they responded to the criticism and worked to improve their policy and service.  If I don’t let go of their past transgressions and patronize them when they make changes, then what incentive do they have to respond to complaints? And what message does that send to the next business whose policies and practices we challenge?

I will admit that I have some envy of people for whom the hassles of flying are limited to flight delays and lost luggage, and not whether they’ll be left clinging to the last shreds of their dignity by their connecting flight.  It also makes me aware of, and grateful for, the luck that I have in that I do fit in a single seat (primarily a function of the fact that my fat goes forward and back instead of to the sides.) Still, I feel like we’re making progress and the more the airlines know that fat flyers are here and not going away, the more progress we can make.

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Published in: on June 1, 2013 at 9:04 am  Comments (56)  

56 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It sounds like they have set a decent baseline. If they keep it up then hopefully they will be rewarded by getting more customers and it will become an industry standard if other companies what to get a share of the market.

    • I haven’t followed this too closely, but Southwest Airlines has an excellent customer service record, for the most part. They pride themselves on this. I hope that they continue to work on this particular piece because this is the entire reason I hate flying. It’s a hassle if you don’t fit into one seat.

  2. Cool policy, I will have to look into it. My boyfriend says he wants to go to Hawaii this fall but I am terrified of the many hour flight – particularly after our last flying experience together. Last flight I took was only an hour and a half and I was in excruciating pain by the time we landed because of the seat’s “arm rest” digging it’s way into my hip. And he, sitting next to me, was feeling cramped because I was encroaching on his space. I felt so bad that I was crouding him, because he was so obviously Miserable about me cramping him, that I started to cry. I was so hurt and humiliated and now am terrified of flying.

    I really don’t want to have to get two seats. Stupid airlines and their tiny seats! Grrrrrrrr

    • Oh and before anyone thinks my boyfriend wasn’t being very helpful or suportive in a bad situation that I could do nothing about, i should mention he suffers from mild claustrophobia. So him showing obvious distress over me crowding him, wasn’t his fault. I was, by my very presence beside him, making a tight and cramped space tighter and more cramped. So yeah, he was fighting his own personal demons at the time. Still, it made me feel like a horrible person, even though it wasn’t my fault. It may take me a while to train myself to not hate myself or my body for ” taking up too much space”.

    • Hi Stacy, my husband and I have flown on Hawaiian Airlines and not had a problem we normally sit in the side seats because they are just two together. But they have the middle row that has three seats together and if you keep the middle open that can work too for more comfort and help with his claustrophobia. Hope you make the trip to Hawaii it is worth the long flight. We are going again this September.

  3. This is a great idea of yours, to let people know when they get it right. My dad always used to call managers over to compliment their staff, or write letters to places that did a job really well, and it not only ensured that he was well taken care of, but it boosted morale among staff. I’ve fallen out of the habit of doing it, but I will start again.

    • As someone who used to work in retail and food service, I have to applaud your father, bodycrimes. It really is a great motivator to hear that someone appreciates it when you get it right. All too often the manager only hears who has upset the customer or gotten things wrong. If the manager doesn’t see you getting it right, they don’t know and don’t reward your good customer service.

      I really hope you do start letting managers know when their staff has done well.

      • Everything Twistie said. We try at our house to always compliment good service directly. We’ve done our stints in retail and restaurant from the bottom to management.
        Another facet of this feedback is that it helps support American workers. In addition to not buying crap made in China, we need to go out of our way to compliment good workers in our community.
        Sometimes when corporations make decisions on downsizing and/or outsourcing, those customer comments actually come into play.

        And kudos to you Ragen for giving Southwest another try. I agree if you don’t support companies who make an effort, why should they bother. It sure would be more convenient for me to be able to trust flying Southwest for my frequent business travel. I will have to give them another shot.

      • You’ve convinced me! I’m on it. Thanks for the comment.

      • I will often talk to management when someone does a really great job, but I most often like to leave notes – typically on the credit card receipt that I sign (if I have a lot to say, I will write on the back of it!). I figure, that way the manager can’t miss it, and it can’t be thrown away (if I happen to have something negative to say). Typically, I just try to always jot down a “Great service!” or something more specific, if there was a note-worthy moment.

        As a question, though – is that bad form (inappropriate) for me to leave a note on the credit card receipt?

        • I wouldn’t call it bad form, but depending on the store it might or might not get the message to the manager. In some places the cash/credit card slips are handled only by the cashier and the bookkeeper. In other places, it might get right to the owner. Depends on the size and set-up of the business. If you want to make absolutely certain the message gets where you want it to go, I would recommend asking to speak to the manager or leaving a note directly to the manager.

          If the business is big enough, they might even have customer comment cards you can fill out. I know we had that when I worked at Macy’s way back in the dark ages.

  4. I’m glad to hear things went well this time, Regan. Yes, there was a fail when Julianne’s wheelchair wasn’t waiting for her when you got to Austin, but at least the situation got resolved and there was one on the way back.

    It’s good to know Southwest is an option if we need to fly again any time soon. It’s usually cheap and we haven’t got money to throw around.

  5. Hubs and I will be flying SW soon, using option one – we bought three seats for the two of us — our choice, to make sure overbooking did not deny us the space we, er, I need. I’ll write back afterwards to let you all know how it went, including getting the promised refund.

    • Since you have to put in traveler information online, how did that work?

      • They tell you exactly how to do it in their online instructions. http://www.southwest.com/html/customer-service/extra-seat/index-pol.html

        For my first seat, I entered my usual info, For my extra seat, same info, with middle name ‘XS’. That’s it, easy-peasy. Here’s hoping the rest of our SWA experience is as smooth.

        • Seriously? They call it a “customer of size” policy??? Cuz what – skinny people don’t have a size? That is SO freaking stupid.

          Other than that, though, this is a great step in the right direction and I want to thank Southwest for their choice to accommodate. Thanks for the information!

  6. Re: the wheelchair issue. For folks like me who have not the physical ability to walk the long distances through airports, I highly recommend the purchase (or even rental, for a rare trip or a temporary immobility) of a TravelScoot. I could not travel, cruise, go to museums,or even do most of my shopping without mine. The airlines are generally great about checking my TS (like a baby stroller) at the door to the plane, and having it waiting for me shortly after landing. Hopefully, SW will be the same.

    And, no, I do not represent TravelScoot, ‘though I wish they’d let me do so.

    For more information about supersize and smaller folks using TravelScoots around the world, see Elizabeth Fisher’s blog: http://mytravelscoot.blogspot.com/

    • I really really love this idea! Thanks for sharing, I will pass it along :)

  7. Regan, I couldn’t agree with you more about the need to reward the companies that respond to complaints by doing better. And I think it’s also a good idea to let them know that they are being rewarded for doing better. We need to tell the company as well as other customers.

  8. Ragen – You didn’t really describe the seating experience as much as the wheelchair experience. While I am glad to know SW will be accommodating if I need a wheelchair, what exactly did they do about your seats on the plane?

    • Hi there,

      Sorry, On the way there I got the boarding passes for both of us while Julianne got her wheelchair, they proactively offered us a second seat (with a little sign for the seat that says “reserved” and pre-boarding, and the agent who pushed her wheelchair took care of letting the gate agent know. On the way back they already had the extra seat (with reserved sign), and preboarding ready and, again, the person who pushed the wheelchair took care of it. The wheelchair is handled by a separate company with which SWA contracts and I feel like even if we didn’t have the wheelchair they would have been just as good about giving us the extra seat.

      ~Ragen

      ________________________________

  9. I’m going to Europe on vacation during this summer…and beyond petrified doesn’t even explain how i feel..aside from worrying of getting rude stares, comments etc. I’m freaking out over the airplane ride over, not to mention that i’ll ruin everyone else’s vacation and feel bad. I admit i too also envy people who’s only worry is, flights being delayed or forgetting to pack something. sigh…

  10. I can certainly understand the sentiment and support whatever decisions people make as they are the boss of their flying underpants.

    I can’t tell you how much I want flying underpants now.

    • I’m sewing little wings on mine as we speak.

    • I feel like if we did, we would not have to worry about airline seats so very much.

  11. I’ve never needed a seatbelt extender, but it was always a pretttty tight fit. Now that I’m pregnant, I’m a touch worried. Has anyone here ever asked for one? Was it as breezy as it should be?

    • As you are boarding the plane, you will be greeted by a flight attendant. You just ask her/him for an extender and s/he will either hand it to you right there or ask for your seat number and bring it to you before take-off. No big deal.

      • Right on, that’s what I heard from one source, but I wasn’t sure how universal it was. Thanks! :)

        • Oh yeah, if you act like it’s no big deal, most flight attendants will too. I ask for one all the time. The only trouble can be when they say they’ll come back with one, and then wander off and forget. So just be prepared to be proactive and know you’re asking for nothing that’s weird or out of the ordinary.

          • I have had very good experiences requesting seatbelt extenders and have taken it as an opportunity to practice asking for what I need without shame or apology, just as I ask for armless chairs in restaurants and other public spaces. As O.C. said, if you act like it’s no big deal, mostly they will too.

  12. If we are going to boycott a company for anti-size acceptance behavior/policies/etc., then we should definitely give them another chance when they make a positive change. Thank you for trying it out for all of us.

  13. I like that you have taken the time to acknowledge that something was done correctly. More people should follow your example.

  14. It sounds like you are out there teaching Southwest how to handle people like us properly. Thank you. If we don’t patronize institutions and ask for what we need, they may never change on their own.

  15. I love your worldview (like your reasoning to go with Southwest now that they are making an effort to rectify past errors). Rock on, sister.

  16. Frequent SWA flyer for work, found you via Shakesville. More often than not, the SWA flights I’m on are fully booked, expected to have every seat filled, and after boarding do have every seat filled. Do you know what they would have done if your flight was projected as full? Do you have to wait for the extra pass and reserved sign until “all ticketed and confirmed passengers have boarded” like with standby? I imagine the policy includes language to the effect of “if you choose not to book an extra seat, we may not be able to provide one” but I’m curious as to how it works in practice.

    • Hi Marshal,

      Actually the policy says that if you choose not to buy an extra seat “you will be accommodated.” It is my understanding that if you need an extra seat they treat you like that is your single seat and you are treated like everyone else. We checked in over 2 hours early for our flight and they printed our voucher immediately. The flight was full. Their policy is to take volunteers first and, in the extremely rare circumstance that they are overbooked and don’t get enough volunteers, they compensate people for not being able to get on their booked flight.

      ~Ragen

      • Ah, thanks for clarifying. I know that they (rightfully so) took a lot of flak for how they mishandled these situations in the past, but it’s a bold correction, giving the seats away for free, that is.

        The real risk is the reaction of bumped customers (sad when trying to be decent to people is a “risk”). I would hope they don’t disclose why people are getting bumped and just attribute it to being oversold. You don’t need market research to know that people are going to react very differently to “sorry, we sold too many tickets” than to “sorry, you can’t board this flight because we gave your seat to someone else.”

        Also makes me wonder what they do when travelers who need the extra seat are not as proactive and early as you were, and it may be more obvious why they’re asking people to give up seats. Air travel brings out the absolute worst in people, and I could imagine an ugly scene. As you note, though, it’s typically pretty rare that they need to actually bump anyone (in the dozens and dozens of SWA flights I’ve been on in the last couple years, I’ve never seen it happen). Also wonder if they have contingencies for people that may be running late or check in at the airport and have a B31-60 or C group boarding pass. Sometimes there are nothing left but middle seats by then. Sorry for all the questions – as you can probably tell I’m pretty brand-loyal to SWA and know that while a lot of people love their open seating policy it does cause some confusion and issues from time to time, and I am just curious about what they do to try to make it all work for all involved.

        • On the same SWA website page I linked to earlier, they say:

          “Customers of size who have an Extra Seat Boarding document may choose to preboard in order to select seats that best meets (sic) their needs…”

          • Makes sense – thanks. Probably could just read the policy myself instead of bugging you :)

  17. Thank you for modeling how to be proactive, ask for your needs and gracious when people do hear our requests. You do what you ask others to do and that is not always easy.

  18. I am considering flying SW for the first time. I’ve looked at the policy for Customers of Size and also talked with two different SWA reps to clarify. I’ve been reading a lot of other conversations on SWA community that seem to convey that if you choose to purchase an extra seat because you’re unsure if you’ll fit in a 17 inch space, that if the plane is full, you’ll get a lot of unsaid grief from other passengers for taking up two seats when one could be filled. I did ask about their refund policy for the extra seat and they assured me I could get a refund for the extra seat and I should not have any issues with anyone being upset for having an empty seat next to me. The rep also told me you can pre-board if you purchase an extra seat and wouldn’t need to purchase an early bird registration. I am a customer of size and could probably fit into a small seat, but I’d rather not take any chances. Just don’t want to be stared down by other passengers cause I have an empty seat or pre-board before Business Select passengers. Anyone have any recommendations on whether I should purchase the early bird registration anyway and board after the Business Select A1-A15 positions? This is all new to me, so thanks for listenening. Coach Anne, if you have taken your trip already, let us know of your experience. I’ll be travelling alone.

    • Our first SWA trip is still a few weeks off. We are not buying early bird registration, and intend to take full advantage of preboarding.

      Feel free to remind me if I’ve not posted here about our experience by end of next month.

      In the meantime, how can we help you develop an “I don’t give a shit what other people think” attitude? If people stare at you, either ignore ‘em, or stare back. YOU HAVE AS MUCH RIGHT AS ANYONE OF ANY SIZE to be seated safely and comfortably! And if, because of choices made by the airline and plane manufacturers, you need two seats, that is perfectly fine. Kudos to SWA for making that option available as hassle-free as possible.

      Please, stop buying into other people’s attempts to shame you. Especially, anticipated attempts that may or may nor actually happen! Most of all, please, stop shaming yourself…

      BTW, if it helps, all the seating on SWA is 3 and 3. So one lucky person sharing a row with you is going to be delighted to have your empty seat next to them.

      Sent with as much compassion as I can squeeze into these typed words, and AmpleHugs,
      Anne

      • Anne,

        Thank you for your compassion and your words of encouragement. I have always been self-conscious of my weight, but until I started reading all these negative comments and blogs from people commenting on the Kevin Smith fiasco in 2010, for the first time, I actually was worried about flying and fitting into a seat. I spent last night measuring and creating a 17 inch “seat” to see if I could fit. It was close and I was torn on whether to get an extra seat. I called SWA about 4 times, talking to 4 different customer service reps to clarify things. I had read where someone said they purchased an extra seat and despite that, SWA put someone in his seat and he said that person even stored his personal items under the seat the plus size guy had purchased. After being assured I could get a refund from the extra seat after my travel was over, the rep told me not to feel bad about purchasing an extra seat or getting a chance to preboard. She was also plus size and said she uses a seat extender. She said if anyone gives me problems or attitude about my purchase of an extra seat (even though I will get reimbursed for it later), that’s what the flight attendants are there for, to handle them. She said I paid for two tickets and I deserve to be seated comfortably, so, as you have said, I’m thinking who cares what others think. I paid for them and deserve the room, if needed. And as you said, I’m sure the person sitting in my row will appreciate the extra room too! I look at it as a perk. I am glad Southwest has chosen to do the right thing and help by reimbursing the extra seat. Doesn’t make much business sense to me. I even asked them how is that good business to fly an empty seat, then reimburse the customer. They said they used to ask people to purchase seats if they were larger, but now they provide them or reimburse if you pay for it. She said it’s just worth it and easier on the customer. I’m so glad I found this blog, as it restored my faith in customer service! And glad I found a sympathetic soul that understands what I’m going through. Thanks, Anne! And be sure to report on your flight experience. My flight isn’t until October. Good luck and thanks for your great advice and attitude!

  19. does anyone know if your whole party gets to pre-board or just the person buying the two seats? I wouldn’t want to pre-board and have my family be able to get nowhere near me. Would I have to have the family members pay more for early boarding?

  20. Betty, I have no experience yet flying with Southwest, so I can’t specifically answer your question. But if I recall (and others, please correct me), I think I read maybe on the SWA community forum that only the person with the extra seat certificate gets to preboard, unless they need a caregiver or something to help them. Otherwise any other party would have to board in their numbered boarding slots. Like I said, I could be wrong.

    • When I flew with Julianne we both got to preboard, even though she was the only one with the extra seat. Other people had their family preboard with them.

      ~Ragen

      ________________________________

  21. Coach Anne…..have you taken that flight yet to see how things went and how the refund policy held up? I appreciated your comments when I first posted, so I’m anxious to hear about your experience!

    • We are back from our first round trip on SWA. It was a surprisingly positive experience, with almost no glitches.

      I don’t know how much detail to go into — happy to answer questions. I will say that all of our flights were completely full, and I was glad we had purchased my extra seat. (I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t, but, with zero flexibility in our travel schedule, I didn’t want to find out.)

      At the gate, I was given a sign to put on my seat so no one would sit there, and — this is important — was also given a blue plastic envelope that allowed me and my hubby to pre-board..(Without pre-boarding, there would have been a good chance of us not finding three empty seats together.) Easy-peasy, no hassles.

      The only glitch was, when I tried to check-in for the return flights, the online check-in wouldn’t work, and the customer assistant I reached by phone said it had something to do with my extra seat. She didn’t know how to fix the problem, so I had to be transferred to a manager, who did take care of it. I was fortunate that I was i a place I could call from a day before our flights — had we still been on the ship, and not willing to call at $8/minute, we might have had more of a hassle.

      After we got home, I sent an email to customer care, requesting my refund. That was late Sunday night. Got a call today (Friday) saying my refund was being processed in full, and it should show up in my account “in a few days”. Next time, I think I’ll call rather than email, as I was told they could process it immediately that way.

      One more thing — I left my Kindle on the outbound flight; didn’t realize it was missing until after we left the airport. SWA made it very easy to file a lost item report, and I got my Kindle back this week; along with a cute poem from SWA.

      • Thanks for the review, Coach Anne! Sounds like things went pretty smoothly and every effort was made to iron out the couple small glitches. I’ll remember that if I’m ever actually flying again.

      • Thanks for the update, Coach Anne! I know when I talked with several of the SWA customer service reps by phone, they all said I should not purchase the early bird registration on my flights, because having that extra seat, it wouldn’t help and wouldn’t allow me to check in early. That I would have to check in at the airport when I checked my bags, and they would give me the proper documentation to be able to pre-board the flight (the signage to put on my seat, that would also allow me to preboard my flight). So just to clarify, you did NOT purchase the early bird registration, but simply called ahead of time (24 hours before) to “check in” and that’s where it wouldn’t allow you to? But then you called SWA and they checked in BOTH seats (yours and the empty seat) for you, along with your hubby’s? I presume they allowed your hubby to board with you, as I know someone else asked that question, if all parties were allowed to board with the person who had the extra empty seat documentation. I am flying alone, so I’m just a little self conscious of people being ticked at there being an empty seat on a flight. But like you said before, even though I get the ticket price refunded after the flight, I still paid for it up front so while flying, it’s my cost and my choice! Glad you had a great flight. On a side note, I had purchased my two tickets when they had their nationwide sale back in June. A few days ago, I was curious to see what United flight costs were and then rechecked SWA. I found the same day/time flight $61 cheaper! I called SWA and they told me that I could go in and book the cheaper flight, cancel ONE of my tickets, then they would apply the $61 on a future flight that would have to take place no later than 1 year. But since I’m getting a refund on the extra seat, I would not need to do anything with it, as I would get a total refund. I may just do that, but was waiting to see how your experience went as to whether or not I would fly SWA next year. Thanks for the update again, Coach Anne!

        • 1&2) We did NOT purchase the early bird — no need, when I knew I & hubby (my travel partner) would be among the first to board. And in fact, checking in the day before is not necessary when you have an extra seat. But it gave me a bit of peace of mind for this new experience.

          3) The “seat taken” sign does not in itself allow you to pre-board. You must be given the magic blue plastic folder, at the gate. If they forget to give it to you, ask for it. Be polite but don’t be shy. You want to be sure to get two adjacent seats.

          4) If you’re traveling solo, some very fortunate other solo traveler is going to be *delighted* to have that empty seat next to them. No need for self-consciousness — it’s not your fault SWA (and most other airlines) don’t offer seats that would fit you. (See Regan’s excellent recent post on this subject.)

          5) Yes, you will get a refund for the full purchase price of your second seat, even if you trade in your seats for cheaper ones. As you noted, you then have one year to use the “travel funds” resulting from your reduced price first seat. By the way, this only applies to their “wanna get away”, i,e, cheapest, fares. The higher fares are fully refundable.

          • So I need to ask for the blue plastic folder at the gate where you board or when you check in and get your bags checked when you first arrive at the Airport? I presume others who have extra seats, not only customers of size, but those who are disabled, or have other reasons to Preboard get these same blue plastic Envelopes? Did you notice approximately how many people Preboard? I’m just curious. If I would need a seat belt extension, when would I need to ask for One? Thanks for answering all my questions to understand so I, too, can enjoy my first flight on SWA!

            • I can answer based on recent experiences. It is very easy, just allow time for the sometimes long SWA checkin lines, because you do need an agent even if you aren’t checking bags. First, when they try to get you to check in with machines, hand your license/passport to that agent and say “Hi, I’m checking in with 2 seats.” They then check you in, tell you the gate number, and usually give you the “reserved seat” slip of paper along with your boarding pass. Then, after going through security, at your gate, you check in again. “Hi, I’m checking in with 2 seats.” They review your paperwork, return it and give you a blue preboard envelope. It is the same preboard envelope given to anyone with a reason to preboard, including wheelchair users, mobility issues, etc. Usually I’ve been on flights with 2 or three of us. When it’s time to board, the gate agent takes every thing except the “seat reserved” slip.” I feel no shame in pre-boarding. It’s helpful, suits their system, and is a small perk in exchange for complying with their system. Upon entering the plane a flight attendant is usually there, and I always say “Hi, may I borrow a seat belt extender when you get a chance.” They usually reach right into the closet and hand my one, discreetly rolled up, though sometimes are busy and bring it later. No big deal. You select you seat, plunk down your reserved next to it (not that anyone clamors for a middle seat next to me!), and that’s all. I usually buy the second seat for piece of mind, as refunds only take a few days, but I’ve flown without it and it’s gone fine. But I feel more empowered and less nervous if I’ve bought it. Good luck and bon voyage!

  22. I finally took my very first trip on Southwest and wanted to share my experience. When I first booked my tickets a few months ago, I followed the instructions provided on Southwest for their “Customer of Size” passengers, which can be found here: They http://www.southwest.com/html/customer-service/extra-seat/index-pol.html (For my seat, I entered my usual name. For the extra seat, same name with the middle name as “XS”, for “extra seat”). It explains in writing the policy that they will refund the extra seat after you have completed your travel. I called several reps prior to my travel to double check the refund policy. The last rep I talked to the night before, she said she was a customer of size, so she understood, but she told me that if the flight was full, I would NOT get a refund, but if the flight had empty seats, I would. I questioned her on it and said I had talked to at least 5-7 other reps and NOBODY had said that. She checked with her help desk while she was still on the phone with me and came back and apologized, that she didn’t know they had changed the policy and I WOULD get a refund for the empty reserved seat. Whew! Okay on to my flight. I arrived at my regional smaller airport 2 hours early (noon flight) and went to the ticket agent. I gave them my confirmation number and ID. They had a difficult time in bringing up my 2nd reserved seat to print off the “Seat Reserved” sign (which actually is the same size as the boarding pass, in case you’re curious), because my 1st seat had my middle initial and rewards number on it and the 2nd reserved seat had “XS” as my middle initial, so they didn’t match. I told them that was the instructions that were online. They said their system just had a glitch in it. The supervisor came over and they called someone and got it taken care of. After going through TSA Security, I went to the gate agent and told them I was a customer of size and they gave me a blue preboarding “envelope” that was plastic. When they announced they were going to start pre-boarding, everyone that had positions lined up under their groups to the side of the agent taking your tickets and I just walked in the traffic way that was directly in front of the door to the jetway where no one was standing, handed by blue pre-boarding sleeve to them and they scanned and kept my boarding pass. When I got aboard the plane, I asked for a seat belt extender and the flight attendant said “You don’t look like you would need one”, then added “If you don’t need one, you can pass it to one of us at any time”. I found a spot next to the window and placed my “Seat Reserved” sign in the middle seat. There was a man who sat down on the aisle seat and I told him he’d have plenty of room since I had purchased two seats and he said that was FINE with him as he enjoyed the extra room (although he didn’t need it). When someone tried to ask if that seat was taken and I was looking for something in my bag under the seat, he told them no, it was taken. The flight was full and the ONLY thing I didn’t like was that the flight deck crew came on announcing for the flight attendants to prepare for taxiing out to the runway, they announced how many seats plus “one empty”. But I remembered what Coach Anne told me, to go with confidence that *I* purchased the ticket for extra room and to heck with everyone else. I did put up the arm rest between the empty and my seat, but also pulled it down to see if I would have fit in it with someone else beside me and it would have been okay seat wise, but my upper body would have “spilled over” and I would have had to keep my shoulder and arm pulled way in. But the seats were pleather or leather (couldn’t tell) but they were very comfortable. And I was able to get my seat belt on and cinch it tight with a few inches to spare, so I never needed the seatbelt extender. On my flight back home, I was at a larger city airport. I arrived at the airport 2.5 hours early. I was SO glad I did. When I got the Southwest counter, there were 4-5 lines snaked back and forth to check in along with 6 lines parellel to the ticket counter that snaked back and forth before you got sent to a kiosk to check in, then proceed to the ticket agent to check your bags. I told the Southwest employee who was guiding people to the right kiosk that I had to see the Ticket Agent because I was a Customer of Size and she sent me straight to the ticket counter. I gave them my confirmation number & ID and they didn’t have any issues checking me in. I went through security and at the gate agent, she gave me the blue pre-boarding sleeve. Once on board, I chose to seat near the back, again putting the “Seat Reserved” sign on the middle seat. A woman sat in the aisle seat. As the full flight filled up. a woman tried to sit down in my empty seat. I told her this seat is taken. She said “Is someone sitting there?” and I emphatically told her “Yes, someone is sitting there” and pointed to the “Seat Reserved” sign. She glared at me and chose another seat behind me. When I had to use the restroom, she sort of glared at me again. And when I got up to deboard the plane, she sort of was staring at me. But she never said anything. That’s the ONLY issue I had with anyone. Okay, so I called today to claim my refund for the extra seat. I was directed to the “Customer Relations” number (which is 214-932-0333 and open Mon-Fri 7am-8pm CT). I talked with the agent and they asked for my confirmation number, which I gave them. He also asked me for the confirmation number for the extra seat and I did NOT have that immediately with me. He asked me which credit card I put it on and I couldn’t remember, since I have 3 of them and didn’t know which one I used. He said if I could find the email I was sent to confirm each seat, the confirmation number would be on it. When I was trying to look in my email from several months ago, he said he had found it another way and that he had already submitted the refund request and I should see the 2nd seat charge show back up on my credit card within 7-10 business days.
    So all in all, my first experience with “Flying Fat on Southwest Airlines” could NOT have gone smoother. I normally fly United, but their seats are much more confining and I think I’ll use Southwest again, as long as they keep their same refund policy for a 2nd seat. Hopefully this long email will help others who are considering flying Southwest Airlines as a “Customer of Size”. And while most people think it’s horrible that they have a policy like this, calling passengers “Customers of Size”, I think it’s GREAT! They are giving you a POLICY they have to follow and it’s spelled out in black and white, so there is no question of what to expect. The customer service reps were extremely patient to assure me of the policy and my experience could not have been better! So don’t be afraid to fly Southwest if you need an extra seat. I think it’s the only airline that I know of that has this policy and it takes the stress and potential embarrassment of wondering whether or not you will fit in your seat comfortably. While I chose to proactively purchase the 2nd seat, not sure how that would work if the flight was full and they had to provide you with an extra seat. I’m sure someone would get bumped. So that’s why I chose to purchase an extra seat, then when I got back from my travel, I would get the money back. Thanks, Southwest Airlines, for a great experience!

  23. Oh and special thanks to Coach Anne and a few other people who posted in this thread, for sharing their experiences, so I could know what to expect while booking and traveling with Southwest!


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