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It’s Christmas again and a time when too much is eaten; an apt moment maybe to read Fat’ by Raymond Carver. This is a story about an individual who enters a restaurant to have some food. The protagonist of this story works as a waitress, she recounts to her colleague what happened the previous night. From this unnamed women’s point of view, she tells how an oversized man enters and eats at ‘her station’. This individual indulges. It is obvious that the customer is self-conscious about his size, and how people see him. The waitress is kind and very polite to him, but there is an underlying fascination. Carver’s story highlights how some people have a readiness to look at people with perceived flaws as a way of making themselves feel better but also how others can see the real person and empathise. Sadly, this is not seen in the waitress’s partner.
“He is the fattest man she had ever seen”, initially the waitress seems to be mocking the customer already. People’s first impressions are often rude. However, she contrasts this immediately with positive factors of his neat appearance and how well he is dressed. The customer is already labelled like many in society because of their weight even if they are respectable people. The customer in the story comes through the restaurant door and sits at a table. He is being watched all the way to his seat while as he sits at the table minute details are noticed with his fingers: “three times the size of a normal person’s”. The reader envisages the waitress has never seen a large person before. Would she do this to any other person or does his fatness embrace her curiosity? ‘Good evening’, she says, he replies courteously enough with a “little puffing sound every so often“. The reader recognises that she is still figuring this man out despite the fact it may be indicative of his weight. Despite the now obvious acknowledgment of the man’s weight, the waitress still recounts her story to her colleague with “Rita, he was big, I mean real big’.
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Situation: Oversized man, Kevin Smith, thrown off a flight for infringing on another seat.
Question: How would you have handled this situation if you were the Southwest Airline director?
Firstly let’s look at the facts that Mr. Smith originally purchased two tickets for two seats next to each other, so he was aware of the policy with regard to oversized people. He was known to purchase two seats as he had done before with the same airline. He decided to fly standby on an earlier flight. The earlier flight had only one seat. He was seated on the earlier flight before ground staff asked him to leave. He flew back on his later flight.
If I were the director, my initial thoughts would be to look at both sides of the story. It is not a very nice experience to be taken off any flight but the passenger should be aware of all the evidence in this case. There seems to be a bit of confusion as to whether the passenger mentioned to ground staff on the earlier flight that he usually bought two seats and that he had changed to standby thereby moving his flight to an earlier time. He also boarded the plane aware that he had just one ticket. There are also factors involving the ground staff who should have been aware that his size may have created problems. They should have highlighted that the airline will refuse to transport or remove at any point any passenger where the safety and comfort of other passengers is compromised and who is also unable to sit in the seat with the seat belt fastened and the armrest down. Also, the ticket issuer should have noticed his size and made him aware of the airline policy before issuing his earlier flight.
I refer back again to the passenger’s previous flight where he bought two seats. This complies with Southwest airline policy. He must have known that when changing his flight that there was a very high potential that being a standby flight there would only be a few seats spare. He must have known that there was a fair chance that he would not be able to purchase two seats next to each other on a flight that was fully booked. As with any waiting standby passenger, the airline does not really know how many spare seats there will be until the last call for passengers is made at the boarding dock. Mr. Smith must have been aware of this as he waited for his standby flight. Southwest also airlines wonders why he never mentioned in the whole time until he sat in his seat on the flight that he needed two seats and this was how he usually flew on Southwest.
As an airline, we also should share a little of the responsibility as staff should be aware of the company’s clear policy on overweight people. Any passenger who is overweight should be highlighted to the fact that if he or she goes onto the plane and due to their size this person encroaches on the adjacent seat they will be removed from the aircraft. This is the airline’s policy is clear and every individual no matter who they are must follow these rules.
In this situation, the company was right to remove this man and due to the fact he was already booked on a later flight with two seats his travel plans were not harmed. It is a shame this man has used his notoriety to criticize our company but Southwest airline’s seating policy is clear. Southwest airlines need to think of all the passengers being safe and comfortable. Hopefully, this situation has highlighted the company’s policy and made all members of staff aware of the policy and problems that can arise from having to remove people from any aircraft.
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