Crisis expert asks, ‘Was Southwest Airlines too polite to overweight passenger?’

Crisis expert asks, ‘Was Southwest Airlines too polite to overweight passenger?’

Was Southwest Airlines too polite to director Kevin Smith when he posted a profanity-laced Twitter tirade against the airline and its employees on the Internet?  Smith was asked to leave a Southwest flight because his weight had him encroaching on the seat next to him. The airline has had a long standing policy that requires passengers who can’t lower their armrests between seats purchase a second seat. Smith acknowledged that he was aware of the policy and had in fact purchased two seats but tried to get on an earlier flight as a standby passenger.

“Too many companies back down from reasonable policies because they are afraid of negative publicity,” said crisis management expert David Margulies. “We urge our clients to use a devil’s advocate approach to avoid problems when possible but to stand up for themselves when their policies are fair and reasonable.

“Southwest certainly took the high road when it posted a strong defense of its policy on its blog,” said Margulies.  “Southwest’s reasoned approach is in sharp contrast to Smith’s attitude, allowing consumers to see the difficulty airlines and other service businesses have with unreasonable customers.

“Most large corporations want to be very careful with how they respond to this type of over-the-top reaction by a customer,” said Margulies. “In this case, I think the public would have understood if Southwest pointed out that Smith’s profanity and overall negative attitude toward the company and its employees would make it a good idea for him to find another mode of travel.

“Southwest has taken a very reasonable and fair approach to dealing with the issue of overweight customers and should be applauded for their actions,” said Margulies.  “This is the time that customers and employees should take to the Internet in defense of the company.”


David Margulies is a former award-winning journalist who covered the aviation industry. He is currently a leading expert on crisis management and crisis prevention. For the past 23 years, The Margulies Communications Group, a leading public relations firm ( has worked with government agencies, corporations and non-profits providing litigation support, crisis management, media training and crisis prevention programs.